The military and police departments face the difficult task of training recruits for uncommon scenarios that do not occur in everyday life. When challenged with the task of re-creating everything from traffic stops to battlefields, virtual reality can become an asset. The Battle Creek, MI., startup GOVRED is hoping to provide state of the art training for armed services and is currently part of the Cedar Rapid’s Iowa Startup Accelerator summer batch of teams.
How GOVRED works
Childhood friends and GOVRED founders Chase N. Dittmer and Thomas J. Dishaw started their first VR business, Growpo, in 2016.
After doing a demonstration of room-scale VR for the Michigan State Police, Dittmer and Dishaw started to see a greater potential for the equipment than an arcade studio.
“The police started talking about wanting to use that tech for training, and a light bulb went off in our heads,” said Dittmer, CEO of GOVRED. I started reaching out to some military contacts and tested what they called VR, which is just a simulator with no headset. Once I saw that, we pivoted to focus on the military as well as the police.”
GOVRED utilizes HTC Vive headsets and custom code to create scenarios running at 90 frames per second. Some VR requires the use of video game controllers, but the Vive gear lets GOVRED users move around a 25 square meter area, interacting with five different scenarios.
The GOVRED team recently built prototypes for AR15 assault rifles that will work with the VR. They’re currently waiting on tech that will allow the Vive headsets to run wirelessly, allowing for freer roaming of the VR space.
“We should be able to put up to six people in a room for teamwork training sessions,” Dittmer said.
Keeping costs down, retention up
Training a service member can range from $80,000 to more than $400,000 for a West Point attendee. Dittmer hopes that virtual reality will be able to make training more affordable.
“What we’re trying to do is create a solution that brings costs down and increases retention rates for police and military,” Dittmer said. “With our training programs, they’ll learn to respond to a variety of intense, stressful situations, using tech that will allow them to retain it better than traditional training methods.”
Troubleshooting new tech
GOVRED has had to deal with some issues, like the fact that most VR equipment is so new that it can be tough to troubleshoot.
“If you have a computer problem, you know you can go online and find the solution,” Dittmer said. “With VR, if there’s a problem or a glitch, it’s tougher to find out what the answer is. We spend the first three or four months at our arcade troubleshooting. Now, if someone has a problem, we might be able to solve it. We’ve had the tech for a year now, so we’re pretty far ahead of the curve.”
A potential home in Iowa
GOVRED is still a Michigan company, but Dittmer, Dishaw and unity developer Reza Pahl have all relocated to Cedar Rapids for the accelerator and are planning to stay for the foreseeable future.
“It’s hard to see what might come from this. We’ll play it by ear, but as of now we plan on staying,” Dittmer said.
The company will continue to develop its simulations, pushing for a program that will set the standard for military training.
“I’ve read that by 2020, the government plans to have some element of VR or augmented reality inside all training the military does,” Dittmer said. “We’re hoping to be a part of that. We want to train better soldiers and police departments and save taxpayers some money in the meantime.
Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.