Full-Motion Virtual Reality for Arms Control

Virtual environments have been successfully used to support a variety of applications relevant to nuclear safeguards, safety, and security, including IAEA inspector training, dose estimates for personnel, and facility evacuation planning. In this project, we explore the potential of these environments to support innovations in nuclear arms control, in particular, the role they could play in developing facility architectures and verification protocols for treaties that do not yet exist.

Full-Motion Virtual Reality

For the virtual-reality toolset, our project currently uses the WorldViz Walking Virtual Reality System. This wide-area or full-motion virtual reality (FMVR) system combines the Oculus Rift head-mounted display with motion trackers for up to 2500 square meters of real space. Users can physically navigate the available space, while the motion trackers translate their movement to the virtual environment. In the current setup at StudioLab, four optical cameras mounted in the corners of the VR floor track active (infrared) LED markers, which are placed on the user’s headset and on the hand-held controller used to interact with the virtual environment. As markers move within the room, the cameras determine the coordinates of the markers and render the first-person stereoscopic view for the user in real-time. VR environments are built through a multi-step construction process, which includes architectural design (Autodesk Revit), 3D modeling (Autodesk 3DS Max), and a game engine (Vizard, Unreal, or Unity). This workflow allows for a flexible development of facility architectures, including the ability to quickly change floor plans and easily modify the arrangement, dimensions, and properties of all relevant parts of the building including, for example, walls and doors.

A valuable utility of virtual reality is the ability to conduct live exercises with multiple users. Past exercises conducted at real facilities, such as the UK-Norway Initiative and the UK-US Cooperation, have shown that such step-by-step walkthroughs can be important for examining the feasibility of potential verification approaches. However, because of the resources required to conduct such exercises and the security risks of bringing foreign personnel into a secure facility, such exercises have not been organized often. VR offers the opportunity to conduct inspection exercises at a significantly lower cost and with much more flexibility. Exercises can be conducted with users acting through virtual avatars in addition to non-player characters (NPC), representing hosts, inspectors, technicians, and security personnel. Research in social psychology has shown that, if a person in virtual reality believes that another person is an avatar, i.e., controlled by another player, she will “interact more or less as she would interact in the physical, face-to-face situation,” even when she remains fully aware of the computer-generated nature of the experience (J. Blascovich and J. Bailenson, Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution, HarperCollins, New York, 2011). This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the case of FMVR, where most human-to-human interactions (such as interpersonal distance, but also many other human gestures and attitudes) are accurately represented. Also, replays of a particular scenario can be used to examine the impact of curveballs or other precisely controlled changes of the events unfolding during the inspection. Combined with the intuitive experience of interacting with other players and objects in natural ways, FMVR provides the most realistic and intuitive VR experience, which allows virtual reality to be more useable for complex applications such as designing verification approaches.

Further Reading:

Conference Paper: T. Patton, B. Cogswell, M. Kütt, and A. Glaser: Full-Motion Virtual Reality for Nuclear Arms Control, 57th Annual INMM Meeting, July 24-28, 2016, Atlanta, Georgia.

PresentationFull-Motion Virtual Reality for Nuclear Arms Control, 57th Annual INMM Meeting, July 24-28, 2016, Atlanta, Georgia.