In her book The Imagineers of War, author Sharon Weinberger recounts one of the first deployments of simulation training: To improve America's performance in a NATO mock tank battle that the US consistently performed poorly in, nicknamed the Canadian Army Trophy. After implementing DARPA's rudimentary gaming-as-training regimen, the US won. Three decades later, the US Ski and Snowboard Association is using VR training in what could serve as a repeat of that result.
Photo: Laurenne Ross, US Ski Team racer/ US Ski & Snowboard
This year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are almost upon us. Athletes, unfortunately, are given limited time to prepare on the actual courses that will be in use when events begin February 9. While VR tech struggles to find a consumer foothold, it seems almost purpose-built for helping the US's alpine skiers learn their runs inside and out.
"A team coach will capture the race courses the athletes compete on in 360 video which is recorded at relatively low speeds and then sped up to race speed for the athletes so they can see what the courses look like in as close to real-time race scenario as can be provided," an association representative told Gizmodo over email. "VR is giving them another tool they can use to maximise performance and at the elite level they compete at, all gains are a benefit."
Headsets running software from STRIVR simulate the experience of racing down a mountain at top speed, while ski-shaped balance boards provide some tactile feedback (although they're not incorporated into the hardware.)
Asked how the rigs were being incorporated into the skiers' training, an association representative was understandably unable to provide many specifics. Simulation may have given the US a competitive edge in the '80s when the technology was still young, but these days 360-degree cameras and VR headsets are, if not ubiquitous, easily acquired for an event as prestigious as the Olympics. "We are sure other teams are looking at VR, or already using it, but we all tend to keep such things pretty confidential," the representative wrote.
The Olympic ski events begin on February 10. We'll have to wait until then to see if this interesting application of VR pays off.