ion, sensing a range of visual, auditory, and tactile cues and manipulating objects directly with their hands or voice. Such experiential computing systems are best described as a process of using a computer or interacting with a network of computers through a user interface that is experiential rather than cognitive. If a user has to think about the user interface, it is already in the way. Traditional military training systems are experiential computing systems applied to a training problem.
VR technologies can allow people to directly perform tasks and experiments much as they would in the real world. As Jack Thorpe of SAIC pointed out at the workshop, people often learn more by doing and understand more by experiencing than by simple nonparticipatory viewing or hearing information. This is why VR is so appealing to user interface researchers: it provides experience without forcing users to travel through time or space, face physical risks, or violate the laws of physics or rules of engagement. Unfortunately, creating effective experiences with virtual environments is difficult and often expensive. It requires advanced image generators and displays, trackers, input devices, and software.
The most prominent use of experiential computing technology in DOD is in the area of personnel training systems for aircraft and ground vehicles. DOD also has a series of initiatives under way to develop advanced training systems for dismounted infantry that rely on experiential computing. Such programs are gaining increased attention in DOD and will become a primary driver behind the military's efforts to develop and deploy technologies for immersion in synthetic environments. They are being undertaken in coordination with attempts to develop computing, communications, and sensor systems to provide individual soldiers with relevant intelligence information.2 Experiential computing, as applied to flight and tank simulation, is a mature science at DOD. There are a number of organizations that have extensive historical reference information they can draw on in specifying the requirements for new immersive training systems. These organizations include the U.S. Army's Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) and the Naval Air Warfare Center's Training Systems Division. Experiential computing is something that has been essential to military training organizations for decades.
For traditional training and mission rehearsal functions, the current need is to reduce the cost of immersive systems. Existing mission rehearsal systems based on image generators like the Evans and Sutherland ESIG-4000 serve the Army's Special Operations Forces well, allow-