Researchers at a government-funded laboratory have built a giant touchscreen video game that simulates the capture of illegal aliens. In a statement made to Kotaku by an official spokesman, the entire project and underlying systems cost "in the ballpark of $US10 million [worth]of internal investments".
Sandia National Laboratories, based in New Mexico and California, exists primarily to develop new technologies like supercomputers and atypical weaponry for the US government. (A Super Soaker powerful enough to detonate an IED, for instance.) Unlike some defence contractors, Sandia is more than a privatised research outlet. Their main campus is located on an Air Force base. They were spun out of the Manhattan Project, handed over to AT&T management for a while, and are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, one of the largest aerospace and defence companies on the planet.
So for Sandia, home of the world's largest X-ray machine, a project like the "Borders High Level Model (HLM)" maybe isn't such a big enterprise. While the utility of a touchscreen-based simulation of only 166sqkm of terrain can be questioned when our southern border alone is nearly 3200km long, the Borders HLM project gives border patrol agents and other customs officials a chance to "play through various scenarios and see how people, technology and other elements all interact," according to the Sandia press release.
Training and simulation are valuable elements of any organisation. And while $US10 million may seem like a lot of money (about $US1 million of which went directly into the Borders HLM project specifically, with the rest spent over the course of several years building fundamental data management systems), the argument is surely that it's better to spend a modest amount of money on simulations before spending even greater amounts of money on implementation. That executives and government wonks look good on video when manipulating touchscreen elements is just gravy.
We just have one question: When can we download an iPad version? If Border Patrol really wants to figure out the best strategy to deal with illegal crossings, there are thousand of gamers in the world happy to come up with the most efficient strategies possible.