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Alumni veterans experience virtual reality advances firsthand

Group sees the latest from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies — and how that technology can help the military

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As veterans, they’ve seen the challenges faced by the military up close. At a tour of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), the USC alumni veterans saw firsthand how virtual reality can help the soldiers in real life.

Ted Willis ’01 saw right away how the technology could be useful. Willis — chair of the USC Alumni Veterans Network (USCAVN), newly formed to connect and empower Trojan veterans — was commissioned as an officer and stationed aboard the USS Constitution after graduating from USC’s Naval ROTC program.

“I was immediately put in position where I oversaw men and women in the military. Being able to go through that in a virtual setting, and make mistakes and learn from them, before doing it front of real people would have been hugely helpful,” said Willis, one of about 20 Trojan veterans who visited ICT’s Playa Vista campus in late June.

Elite demonstrations

The group saw a demonstration of ELITE, a virtual reality trainer designed to improve counseling and communication skills for new leaders, and other virtual reality technologies developed at the lab, including a treatment for post-traumatic stress.

I am pleasantly surprised to see this concentration on the human as opposed the machine.

Jerome Patterson

“I am pleasantly surprised to see this concentration on the human as opposed the machine,” said Jerome Patterson ’79, who served 25 years as an Army combat engineer. “That is one component of war fighting that people usually forget about.”

ICT’s research and development efforts are indeed centered on people. Over the past 15 years, the U.S. Army Research Lab-funded institute has been advancing both the art and science behind virtual human role players — computer-generated characters that look and act like real people — and social simulations — computer models of individual and group behavior.

Those virtual and game-based technologies are used as research tools to better understand human thought and behavior, as training systems to serve as what ICT Executive Director Randall W. Hill Jr. calls “flight simulators for social skills” or as therapeutic aids to help prevent and treat post-traumatic stress.

USC was a natural fit for this type of work.

Randall W. Hill Jr.

“USC was a natural fit for this type of work because of its leadership in areas like computer science, cinematic arts, education and management, and because of its strong commitment to military and veterans issues,” said Hill, an Army veteran. “It is an honor to see our research making an impact on people’s lives and to share it with the USCAVN group.”

Cadets on tour

The veterans were joined on the tour by about a dozen cadets from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., who are spending part of their summer learning alongside ICT researchers.

ICT systems are in use at West Point, at various military bases and at Veterans Affairs clinics. Tour guests like John Morris ’72, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, appreciated the opportunity to learn about the reach of ICT research.

“This is an excellent event for USCAVN to showcase how USC is engaged, not just with veterans, but with military training and making things better for all of us,” he said.

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Alumni veterans experience virtual reality advances firsthand

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