‘Avatar’ coming to life at Keesler - Local - SunHerald.com
BILOXI — The new blockbuster movie “Avatar” seems total fantasy, yet Keesler Air Force Base already is using avatar technology in a pilot cyberspace program.
Simply defined, an avatar is “you in cyberspace.” In the movie, a handicapped former Marine temporarily occupies another body, which is in cyberspace. It’s full immersion, like an out-of-body experience.
“You actually are that avatar in that environment. You’re inside that body,” said Lt. Col. Scott Solomon, commander of the 333rd Training Squadron at Keesler.
KIMBERLY GROUE/US AIR FORCE Doug Lee, of the 81st Training Support Squadron, edits functions to develop the different virtual training environments called forums for the MyBase training and education prototype being developed at Keesler Air Force base.
“We’re not quite there yet,” he said of the avatar’s capabilities in the film.
Anyone can build an avatar. With Second Life and other popular Internet sites, your avatar can socialize and travel the world on the computer screen. Keesler’s pilot program My Base is a secure virtual-reality classroom in which the instructor and students create avatars of themselves and interact within the computer program in cyberspace.
Solomon said older students generally choose the body of a Gumby character and a picture of their own faces. The younger students choose to personalize their avatars, adding such things as their rank and organizational patches.
“Some of that is how comfortable you are operating in that environment,” he said.
In the virtual classroom, the students can talk to each other via instant messaging or by using their headsets for live audio and video. They can collaborate on documents and exercises, and watch Powerpoint presentations or video from their favorite vantage spots — looking up from the floor or hovering in the air. Solomon said the Air Force will compare the results of the pilot program with conventional training to see if cyber training is successful. Avatar training potentially could be used anywhere, he said, rather than bringing airmen from around the world to Keesler.
Distance-learning training at Keesler saved the Air Force $700,000 last year, and using avatars is the next step. The key is to provide quality training anywhere, any time, at the speed of light, said Solomon.
In June, Keesler is setting up the first cyber-operations initial-skills course, which will prepare more than 400 officers and enlisted airmen a year to fight in the new cyber domain, he said. The training was expanded from five weeks to six months. More than half the course will be taught in a top-secret facility, and he said the Air Force will be the only military in the world that has this comprehensive initial-skills training.
The final training segment uses mission simulators to replicate a cyber attack, to prepare the students to fight an enemy that can attack at the speed of light. Unlike conventional warfare, “you can’t see them and you don’t know when they are going to strike,” Solomon said.
The students who show a propensity to understand how to operate in cyberspace will go on for additional training to become cyber warriors, working on the exploitation and active defense of the Air Force network. He compares the training about to begin at Keesler on guarding cyberspace on par with the first Gemini flights of the space program.
”This is where it’s all happening,” he said. “Right here.”