A new high-performance computer obtained through two Army grants totaling $2.6 million will allow the University of Central Florida to conduct realistic training scenarios with thousands of people training in the same virtual world and to conduct cutting-edge research in the physical and biological sciences.

Hundreds of times as powerful as a modern personal computer, the new IBM System Cluster 1350 housed at the Institute for Simulation and Training will help to satisfy the Army’s need for realistic large-scale simulations that can operate in real time.

IST is working with virtual world developer Forterra Systems Inc. and other local industry partners to study hosting simulation applications on this type of computer for governmental and commercial purposes. According to Forterra’s Federal Systems division general manager Mike Macedonia, studies conducted through the grants will help Forterra learn how its realistic OLIVE™ (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) 3D Internet platform can take advantage of a high-performance computing system’s processing power.

Soldiers could participate in the training activities from anywhere in the world. While simulation scenarios on standard computers may be able to support some large-scale scenarios, they cannot accommodate them in real time with so many participants at once.

“The commercial market also is looking for highly scalable 3D collaboration and training applications, including building distributed networked communities,” Macedonia said, “so the published results will be valuable outside the Army, too.”

IST director Randall Shumaker also sees uses for the enhanced capabilities beyond the Army’s requirements. Many high-performance computers now crunch numbers sequentially, which means users input a problem and have to come back later for the results, he said.

“We plan to learn better ways to perform numerous operations at the same time, taking advantage of the system’s many parallel processors to return results that operators can see and interact with directly,” Shumaker said. “Improving our ability to interact with large-scale Army simulations will help open new doors to getting real-time results from high-performance systems.”

“Once the sole province of scientists, supercomputers increasingly serve as the foundation of applications in the business and consumer realms," said David Jursik, vice president, deep computing, IBM. Jursik noted that UCF’s use of the IBM system in creating innovative virtual world environments will help advance one of the most promising avenues of high-performance computing.

In practical terms, the computer system can store more than 40,000 music CDs, or the text equivalent of 500,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In one second, the computer can do the numerical calculations for more than a billion income tax returns.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson helped UCF secure the first $1 million of the grant, applied toward initial hardware, software and research costs; U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown joined Nelson to help secure the remaining $1.6 million. UCF chose IBM to design the system and train researchers to use it.

The initial installation features a 192-processor IBM System Cluster 1350 with 20 terabytes (20,000 billion bytes) of storage. The system delivers nearly two TeraFLOPS (2,000 billion floating point operations per second) of processing performance.

The second increment of hardware for this system, anticipated in late 2008, is expected to more than triple its capacity, allowing researchers to develop many more new applications.

IST will operate the new system as a university, community and statewide resource. UCF faculty from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with the NanoScience Technology Center, will develop and run science-oriented simulations. IST researchers also will work on the continued development of the high-performance computing hardware and software to improve the system and enhance training scenarios for Army applications.

Student Researchers of the Year awards announced

Two undergrads and four graduate students have a feather in their cap, a plaque for their wall and a line item for their resume. IST annually awards its top student researchers for outstanding assistance during the academic year.

With more than 80 students working with and for the institute, it's a difficult but satisfying task to pick the best of the best for special recognition. This year's nominees represent mathematics, augmented reality, robotics and team performance areas of study. Students are chosen for their exceptional contribution IST research.

Left to right: Undergraduate Jennifer Reedy  and grad students Rex Oleson and Ross Byers were available for a hero shot after the awards presentation.

Receiving awards were undergraduates Jennifer Reedy (mathematics) and Joe Sottilare (augmented reality and simulation interoperability). Grad students Rex Oleson (mathematics), Ross Byers (Robotic control), Cathy Yen (human-robotic interoperability) and Deborah Diaz-Granados (teams and team training) also received plaques.

IST "hires" typically more than 80 students each year to assist with research and gain valuable on-the-job experience. Internships are normally for up to 20 hours a week. Students assist faculty researchers and other research staff in actual contract-, grant- and award-related projects. This research, for many, often leads to co-authorship of reports and papers, trips to conferences and other networking opportunities.


UCF and Lockheed Martin announce partnership to expand new screening and training technology

By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, UCF News and Information

While teachers in the virtual classroom interact with virtual students, one UCF student wears an exoskeleton suit so she can take on the persona of some of the virtual students to provide real-time interaction with the teacher.

Photo: Jacque Brund

UCF and Lockheed Martin today announced a partnership that will help expand a technology developed at the university that could revolutionize the way employees are screened and trained for a variety of professions.

“Today we announce a memorandum of understanding with Lockheed Martin that establishes our desire to work together for the purpose of ongoing research activities into education, simulation technology and its use in training students and teachers,” said Terry Hickey, UCF provost and executive vice president.

College of Education Professors Lisa Dieker and Mike Hynes, in conjunction with UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, Computer Science and student actors from the Interactive Performance Lab, developed a virtual, interactive environment that can give teachers real experience in handling a classroom. Lockheed Martin brings years of experience to the partnership including research, concepts and prototypes of models and simulations in the areas of teacher training and professional development.

Using a combination of technology, real life experience and entertainment the university has been able to create scenarios that are very realistic and have already assisted new teachers in thinking differently about their classroom. In fact, several teachers who tested out the virtual classroom continue to talk about how they need to change their teaching or to “try” again to make sure they meet the needs of these students who are not real.

“This partnership provides a unique opportunity to blend technology from academia and industry to benefit our mutual efforts in advancing education,” said Dale Bennett, president of Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support.

Lockheed Martin has a strong partnership with the university and supports UCF financially and through cooperative programs at its Central Florida facilities. The corporation’s work with the College of Education includes the Transitioning Math and Science Teachers program. It has benefited more than 425 teachers in Central Florida by providing funding for continuing education in the areas of math and science. The company says the technology may be adapted to benefit training in other areas such as counseling or nursing for example.

In its current form, teaching candidates or players enter a Virtual Classroom at the Teaching Academy on UCF’s main campus. There they encounter five virtual characters projected on a huge screen. Research shows these personalities are usually present in middle school students.

Recently, algebra teachers from the community have been testing the virtual classroom. The virtual students already have complete histories that are programmed into a computer. They are also programmed to perform certain actions and gestures.

Depending on how the teacher handles the class, the characters react and chaos ensues. The player’s movements are tracked by sensors in the room and fed over a secure network to monitors across campus at the Media Convergence Lab in the Institute for Simulation and Training.

At the lab a UCF a student wearing an exoskeleton suit watches the player in the virtual classroom. The suit allows the student – an actor – to slip in and out of the virtual characters adding real-time conversations to the scenario.

Virtual characters react to the actor and teacher’s interactions based on their individual student profiles. The teacher never really knows when the student is virtual and when it is the live actor.  The interaction ensures teachers are dealing with both student behavior and teaching the content of algebra.

If students are confused during the algebra lesson, the virtual classroom becomes rowdy as the virtual characters lose focus.

Meanwhile, the entire session is recorded and fed into monitors that professors in education are viewing to see how the teachers are faring. At the end of the session, they allow the teachers to reflect on how they felt the session went and provide feedback to assist the teachers in improving their skills.

The professors involved in the project hope to collect data from a network of virtual classrooms across the country sometime in the future. A national data pool would allow them to determine the effectiveness of this new technology in teacher training.

This virtual classroom provides teachers a safe environment for making mistakes and learning with virtual students and not learning at the expense of real students, creators said. For teachers this experience may provide them a way to find out if they really want to be in this profession.

“Some people’s personalities may just not lend themselves to becoming happy, successful classroom teachers and wouldn’t it be great to find that out before they spend thousands of dollars getting a teaching degree and struggle with students,” Dieker said.

The bottom line of this partnership is to ensure teachers are best prepared to be successful in the classroom.

IST professor  Eduardo Salas garners prestigious UCF Pegasus Professor award  

It's UCF's "academy award," the top honor bestowed on a select few UCF professors each year. This year Dr. Eduardo Salas, of IST and the Psychology Department, is one of only two recipients.

Since 2000, UCF has awarded 13 professors for "sustained excellence in teaching, research and service."

Dr. Salas is program director for Human Systems Integration Research at IST and a Trustee Chair in Psychology. He is known throughout both national and international research communities for his research in team training and effective decision-making and is well-known in the field of industrial and organizational psychology. He was named Researcher of the Year at UCF in 2002.

MURI awards
Dr. Salas is principal investigator and co-principal investigator respectively on two multi-disciplinary university research initiatives (MURIs), each a highly competitive, multimillion dollar, multi-year grant for collaborative research. The first of these, awarded in 2006, was for study of team cognition (more here). The most recent (due to begin in May) will attempt to increase understanding of how different cultures might better collaborate and negotiate. UCF has a major share of the research funding.

The effects of cultural differences on teambuilding is of great interest to U.S. military personnel who must learn to work among people whose ways of communication and cooperation are quite foreign to Western culture. Researchers note an astounding lack of knowledge on the subject and a great need to understand how culture influences basic psychological processes. The U.S. Army Research Office is the funding agency for the project.

"Everything is multicultural in the wars we're fighting," says Dr. Salas. "This MURI is an attempt to create some science behind the art of negotiation."

One of 34 awarded
The 2008 award (University of Maryland is lead) was one of 34 proposals accepted out of 104 proposals submitted by U.S. universities and colleges. many more sent in white papers in hopes of receiving an invitation for a follow-up proposal. Awards typically are for an initial three years, with an additional two-year continuation based on funding availability and satisfactory research progress.


Contract for up to $75 million will result in research to benefit warfighters and the simulation community


The U.S. Army has awarded IST and UCF a contract worth up to $75 million over five years to support innovative modeling, simulation and training research.

Left: (l. to r.) Vice President for Research and Commercialization MJ Soileau, UCF President John Hitt and STTC Acting Director LTC Raymond Compton affix their signatures to a document commemorating the partnership.

The contract between the university and the Army's Research Development and Engineering Command, Simulation and Training Technology Center (RDECOM STTC) is intended to primarily benefit simulation research and technology that benefits U.S. warfighters, but resulting work will be valuable to the simulation community as a whole.

IST and RDECOM STTC recently renewed the five-year-old cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) that established the Simulation and Training Center in the Central Florida Research Park (see our story about this here).  Although not directly connected with the CRADA this new grant will give the Army greater access to UCF's many centers and institutes.

Many close to the industry consider the Central Florida region the nation's highest concentration of simulation and training-related science and industry. Central Florida Research Park is the home of major military training contracting agencies.

UCF simulation research aids military medics, drivers (With Video)

By Chad Binette
Blood loss is one of the leading causes of death on the battlefield, but war-zone medics often find it difficult to receive the training to prevent those deaths.

Story and video footage from UCF Office of News and Information.

Today they can “save” a life-sized arm developed by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training that simulates “bleeding.”
Researchers there have developed the arm in conjunction with the U.S. Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) and Chi Systems. On Tuesday, they demonstrated how it works during the nation’s largest exhibition of modeling, simulation and related technologies at Orange County Convention Center.

After this week’s Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, the Army’s RDECOM plans to demonstrate the arm to special operations medics in early December, and the technology could reach the battlefield in the next year or two, said Sandy Fowler, a science and technology manager for RDECOM who is based in the Central Florida Research Park next to UCF.

“You’re learning a life-saving skill, and you’re almost playing a game at the same time to keep you interested,” said Todd Lazarus, a researcher at IST.

UCF researchers developed the hardware for the “bleeding” arm. It can be used in conjunction with a PDA device or a laptop computer. Medics first choose a small, medium or large wound and then decide whether they want to simulate a small, medium or large-sized arm. A spot on the arm then lights up as “red,” indicating that it is bleeding. The medic must place and tighten the tourniquet properly to turn the light green, indicating that the bleeding has stopped. A clock on the arm times how long that takes.

While the arm can help medics in the field, another UCF research project stands to make getting to patients safer for rescue workers.

Research scientist Ron Tarr and driving sim subjectA driving simulator developed at IST allows ambulance drivers, truck drivers and others to practice in all types of hazardous conditions, including rain, snow and children suddenly running in front of their vehicles.

Lisa Hernandez, a lab manager at IST, demonstrated the driving simulator with a 42-inch plasma screen at the I/ITSEC conference. After a crash, the simulator tells the driver what violations occurred and whether it might have been severe enough to cause a fatality.

The simulation, and the detailed feedback that it provides users, allows people to learn important skills that should make them handle dangerous scenarios better if they ever encounter them.

“Our measure of success is the human performance changes, not how well the technology changes,” said Ron Tarr, a researcher at IST.

UCF’s presence at the I/ITSEC conference extended beyond the exhibit halls.

Eduardo Salas, a trustee chair and professor of Psychology who also is an IST researcher, participated in a discussion on how advances in medical simulation have benefited the military. Salas discussed the importance of using science to develop an effective team training system that includes observation and feedback.

During another panel discussion, Professor Jan Cannon-Bowers of UCF's School of Film and Digital Media spoke about how innovations in simulation can help military personnel and their families, including children, better understand military medicine, including diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.

Cell phones, athletes help students learn about science and math
(With Video)

By Chad Binette, UCF News and Information

Most kids love watching sports and using their cell phones. Now they can do both while learning about science, math and nutrition in a new program developed by the University of Central Florida and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Sprint Nextel and Växjö University (Sweden) also sponsor the project.

About 60 seventh-graders at Glenridge and Lockhart middle schools in Orange County have been answering questions sent via text messages as part of the My Sports Pulse program. They receive and respond to some of the problems during their math classes and others at home.

The questions connect sports-themed scenarios, such as scoring a soccer goal or throwing a curveball, to principles of math, science, fitness and nutrition. In addition to text messages, voice mails and video clips with questions also are sent to participants. Professional athletes posed some of those scenarios.

My Sports Pulse, which will complete its pilot phase this month, is designed to promote student achievement and interests in math and science using mobile devices and sports-themed scenarios. The goal is to expand the program for use in conjunction with Olympic competitions and other major sporting events across the globe.

Schools in Kansas City, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and Uganda are among the other participants in the pilot program. With 39 percent of youths owning cell phones, the trend around the world is to use mobile devices for gaming programs specifically focused on learning. Research also indicates that 95 percent of young people use gaming technology for entertainment and often learn from this technology.

“If you look at the numbers, there are hundreds of millions of computers across the globe, but there are over 3 billion cell phones right now,” said David Metcalf, the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training researcher who designed the program. “We can reach a significantly larger number of students through the mobile technology.”

The Kauffman Foundation also sees cell phones as the newest frontier for learning. According to Kauffman’s vice president for education, Dennis Cheek, cell phones’ popularity with young people and the devices’ ever-increasing capability to handle multi-media make them ideal as learning tools.

The Kauffman Foundation provided a grant to IST as part of the foundation’s 10-year commitment to math and science education. My Sports Pulse is one of a series of programs that the Kauffman Foundation is developing to help optimize learning in the digital age.
Sprint Nextel provided cell phones and wireless services to the My Sports Pulse participants. High-scoring students in Orange County have received prizes such as Orlando Magic tickets provided by the Orlando Hoops organization.

IST provides a wide range of research and information services for modeling, simulation and training communities. IST developed the game and is running the program. Växjö University in Sweden and Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates are working with IST.

How the My Sports Pulse Program Works
Students receive the questions by pre-recorded audio and text messages. Major League Baseball and National Football League players have been invited to record opening and closing video segments and audio clips to introduce students to the sports concept used in each question.

“My Sports Pulse sends sports scenarios over mobile phones to help kids with math and science,” said Metcalf. “With the Olympics around the corner, sports will be a unifying element across the world. We want to tap into this excitement.”

The interaction begins when a student receives a question via the phone. If a student is unable to answer the phone, experiences a dropped call or needs a few minutes to research a solution, the student has the option to call back into the system. If students have trouble solving a problem, they can go to www.MySportsPulse.com to get helpful links to appropriate Internet resources.

Points are awarded to students in five categories: Science of Sport, Engineering of Equipment, Nutrition, Fitness and Will to Succeed. The first four categories have associated scenarios and questions. Students have several opportunities to answer each question. Their points received are based upon how many attempts are required to answer successfully. They also receive points in the Will to Succeed category for every question they try to answer.
“Students can earn partial points even when they answer incorrectly,” said Metcalf. “We want to encourage students to strive to improve their performances even when they have trouble answering certain questions.”

The scoring system was implemented to create competition, add motivation and reward students for doing well. As students gain points, they reach new levels of achievement. Over the course of the program, they can become an Amateur, Rookie, Professional, Champion and, at the top, an Olympian. Students earn points or rewards, such as games and ring tones, sports gear and tickets to athletic events throughout the program. IST tracks the scores online.
About the Kauffman Foundation: The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City is a private, nonpartisan foundation that works with partners to advance entrepreneurship in America and improve the education of children and youth. The Kauffman Foundation was established in the mid-1960s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman. Information about the Kauffman Foundation is available at www.kauffman.org.

About Sprint Nextel: Sprint Nextel offers a comprehensive range of wireless and wireline communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users. Sprint Nextel is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying innovative technologies, including two robust wireless networks serving 54 million customers at the end of the third quarter 2007; industry-leading mobile data services; instant national and international walkie-talkie capabilities; and a global Tier 1 Internet backbone. For more information, visit www.sprint.com.