Virtual Design Challenge Opens To All

October 13, 2009
Henry S. Kenyon

The Federal Virtual World Challenge is seeking new and innovative ideas to help the U.S. government develop virtual training and analysis tools.
A new competition is opening up the process of developing and improving virtual training environments by streamlining the rules and requirements for participation. The U.S. military spends billions of dollars developing and improving virtual environments to train its personnel, but this process can seem complex and difficult for individuals and firms without government contracting experience.

Instead, by reaching out to the global design and development community, the Federal Virtual World Challenge seeks innovative, outside-the-box ideas to provide the U.S. government with virtual training and analysis technologies. Led by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Florida, the event is open to both government and civilian participants.

A key goal of the event is to discover new applications and tools. “I think we will discover technologies that we never would have discovered otherwise that will push the use of the technology quite a bit further,” says Tami Griffith, the center’s science and technology manager. She adds that contests such as the challenge promote more creativity than traditional broad area announcements.

The challenge has two tracks: one for the general public and another for government personnel and contractors. Federal organizations and providers with active contracts can submit programs and material, but they cannot win any prize money—only recognition, she says. Government personnel and agencies also can help evaluate submitted training applications.

Although the Army is hosting the event, Griffith emphasizes that the contest is open to the entire government, not just the military. She admits that the challenge originally was envisioned to support the military, but the concept of virtual training created so much interest across the government that the event was expanded.

Contest rules were kept to a minimum to keep submissions as creative as possible, she says. Among the requirements are that users can employ any virtual platform as long as it is open and free; submitted products must contain all the necessary materials for their use; and work that is already being done for the government cannot be entered.

Submissions can be anything that operates virtually. Griffith notes that many of the submissions have been games, which work well in virtual space. For example, one submitted training tool is a virtual card game designed to train users to read Arabic. The event also seeks to expand the training and analysis areas that can be supported in a virtual environment and to build public awareness about government organizations’ work in virtual worlds.

The deadline for submissions is November 15, 2009. Griffith adds that the November 15 deadline was chosen to allow students and university groups time to develop their materials.

Winners will be announced in March 2010 at the Defense User’s Game Tech Conference in Orlando. Non-government participants are eligible to win a cash prize. Griffith notes that the exact amount has not yet been announced. Submitted materials will be evaluated through January 2010 with a public feedback period running through February. Winners also will demonstrate their virtual solutions at the Federal Virtual Worlds Conference in May 2010.

Griffith is hopeful that the inaugural challenge will become an ongoing annual event. “One of the great things about virtual environments is that they’re inexpensive,” she shares. After the initial year’s setup and paperwork, she believes that the event will become easier to run and maintain for many years to come.


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