Navy looks to develop game to recruit unmanned vehicle operators

ARLINGTON, Va. The Office Naval Research (ONR) is sponsoring the StealthAdapt project, which aims to identify individuals with the right skills to be an unmanned vehicles (UxV) operator. The Naval Aerospace Medical Institute and software company Adaptive Immersion Technologies are teaming up to for this project and will develop a computer game to identify these individuals.

“The currently doesn’t have a test like this to predict who might excel as UxV operators,” says Lt. Cmdr. Peter Walker, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “This fast-paced, realistic computer simulation of UxV missions could be an effective recruitment tool.”

is designed to address the Navy's need to find talented individuals that can operate UxVs. It consists of a cognitive test, personality assessment, and biographical history assessment. The cognitive exam actually is the -based component of the system and takes the form of a search-and-rescue mission. Each player’s assignment is to rescue as many stranded friendly forces as possible, within a pre-set time limit, while avoiding fire from hostile forces.

Players must simultaneously monitor chat-based communications, make sure they have enough fuel and battery power to complete missions, memorize and enter authentication codes required for safe rescue of friendlies, decode encrypted information and maintain situational awareness.

“We’re trying to see how well players respond under pressure, which is critical for success as an unmanned operator,” says Dr. Phillip Mangos, president and chief scientist at Adaptive Immersion Technologies. “We’re looking for attention to detail, the ability to multitask and prioritize, and a talent for strategic planning—thinking 10 moves ahead of your adversary.”

Under the cognitive test, players complete multiple five to 10-minute missions in an hour. Each scenario changes, with different weather, terrain, number of friendlies and hostiles, and potential communication breakdowns. Players must also answer questions focusing on personal and biographical history - after completing the game portion of the test. Mangos’ team then crunches this data with game-performance metrics to create a comprehensive operator evaluation.

In recent years, the Air Force established its own formal screening process for remotely piloted aircraft operators, and the Marine Corps designated an unmanned aviation systems (UAS) career path for its ranks. However, the Navy doesn’t have an official selection and training pipeline specifically for its UxV operators, who face challenges unique to the service. For UAS duty, the Navy has taken aviators who already earned their wings; provided on-the-job, UAS-specific training; and placed them in temporary positions.

Last year, over 400 civilian and military volunteers participated as StealthAdapt research subjects at various Navy and Air Force training centers. Mangos and his research team currently are reviewing the results and designing an updated system for validation by prospective Navy and Air Force unmanned operators. It will be ready for fleet implementation this year.

Mangos envisions StealthAdapt serving as a stand-alone testing and recruitment tool, or as part of a larger screening process such as the Selection for UAS Personnel, also known as SUPer. SUPer is an ONR-sponsored series of specialized tests that assesses cognitive abilities and personality traits of aspiring UxV operators.

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