screenshot from Operation Overmatch (Army)

Army uses multiplayer game environment to crowdsource innovation

To help the military accelerate innovation, the Army has set up a virtualized, game-like environment where soldiers crowdsource ideas about equipment, tactics and team organization.

Part of the Early Synthetic Prototyping (ESP) effort, Operation Overmatch lets teams of soldiers fight advanced enemies with emerging capabilities in realistic scenarios and records their responses.  That data can then be used to evaluate new ideas, inform areas for further study and ultimately get new technology to the battlefield faster.

By measuring and evaluating what choices soldiers make in the game, what they discuss and even where they look, developers and engineers across the Army can get concepts and equipment prototypes tested quickly by a large number of potential users at minimal cost.

"What we want is two-way communication, and what better medium to use than video games," said Army Lt. Col. Brian Vogt, ESP project lead with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Army Capabilities Integration Center.

Collecting feedback through the ESP gaming environment lets the Army explore hundreds -- if not thousands -- prototypes of vehicles and weapons at a fraction of what it would cost to build the capability at full scale, Vogt explained. A vehicle or weapons system that might take years of engineering to physically build can be changed or adapted within minutes in the game.

"We can change the engine in a game environment, and it could accelerate faster, consume more fuel or carry more fuel. All these things are options within the game -- we just select it, and that capability will be available for use," Vogt said.

"Soldiers have the advantage of understanding how equipment, doctrine and organization will be used in the field -- the strengths and weaknesses," said Michael Barnett, chief engineer at the Army Game Studio and project lead for Operation Overmatch. "And they have immediate ideas about what to use, what to change and what to abandon -- how to adapt quickly."

Still in early development, the game currently models a few future vehicles to include variants of manned armored vehicles, robotic vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. The scenarios are centered on manned/unmanned teaming at the squad and platoon level in an urban environment.

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