Black Mirror is way ahead of us again.
Virtual reality training is being developed as a method to equip troops with resilience training before deployment — something a Black Mirror episode toyed with in season three.
Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, has announced $2.2 million for a University of Newcastle project that aims to develop enhanced resilience training for military personnel using VR and biometrics.
The program, which will work in conjunction with the ADF’s existing Battle SMART stress resilience training program, will see neuroscientists designing simulated environments to replicate real-world combat scenarios in VR.
Military personnel will use the program to train in problem-solving unpredictable situations, and build up psychological resilience to pressure. Theoretically, their superiors can use the cognitive data collected on soldiers to “objectively” measure whether a person is ready to be deployed.
Funded by the Australian government, the Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) and the Australian Army, the project is the work of associate professors Rohan Walker and Eugene Nalivaiko, affiliates of the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), alongside Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo’s team at the University of Southern California.
“We said, is there potentially something where we can bring VR together with an objective assessment of stress and put them together to come up with an improved, immersive, engaging way of training to get better control of your stress levels when you are in demanding workplace situations?” Walker tells Mashable.
“Imagine a helicopter is coming in with casualties on it … It’s a very life threatening situation,” Walker explains. “So, not only would emergency responders or paramedics have to deal with the fact that they may be in a conflict zone, they have to deal with a helicopter landing, but they also have to rapidly triage what might be very significant injuries.
“Now, that would become a very stressful process. In those situations, even without obvious things you think about with combat like bullets and guns, just that immediate pressure of there being a huge number of things that you have to do, and really, the consequences … of making good decisions in those circumstances.”
“The idea will be that trainees can master the skill in a measurable situation where we can control the difficulty of the task to ensure they’re prepared before moving to a real-world conflict situations,” Nalivaiko said in a press statement.
It makes us think immediately of Black Mirror episode “Men Against Fire,” in which soldiers are equipped with a neural implant called MASS that provides instant data via augmented reality, both in training and in the field — and blocks any emotional reaction to killing enemies.
This project isn’t exactly Black Mirror‘s proposal, but it is a project aimed at using simulation to manage psychological stress as an occupational hazard in the military — a hazard that can affect performance in the field.
“What tends to be challenging is where difficult experiences are beyond the individual’s ability to control them,” said Nalivaiko in a press statement.
“It’s imperative our troops are forearmed with strategies to ensure they remain in control of the situation and are equipped with the skills to make a level-headed decision.”
How soldiers cope with high pressure situations
There are two main factors at play, when considering performance under pressure, according to Walker.
“Firstly, cognitive reframing, which involves identifying and then disputing irrational thoughts. Reframing is taking a step back and objectively looking at the scenario to find positive alternatives.
“The second is tactical breathing. Although it may sound simple, breathing is key as it is the only thing we can regulate under pressure.
“When you’re breathing properly, respiration and heart rate are controlled and you have high levels of cognitive flexibility to make better decisions.”
Once the trainees have completed the VR exercises, biometrics can theoretically be used to analyse how ready they are to be deployed for combat.
The VR program already has a prototype, with the launch of the program planned for six months away. But it’s not just the military that could benefit from VR pressure training.
“One of the things that we can do better is the way that we train people to deal with pressure across all workplaces,” Walker told Mashable. “High levels of stress are inherent in nearly every profession.”
Maybe Michelin-starred restaurants can consider VR training program for their high-intensity kitchens.