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OLDER readers may remember Tomorrow’s World, the Beeb’s fl agship technology show which

And it gave us a lot of things which never materialised: the singing washing line (!) and the glow-in-the-dark fi shing rod.

ran for four decades. It gave us our fi rst glimpse of the cash machine, the pocket calculator, the CD player.

A fair few futuristic developments which have featured in these pages down the years have never come to fruition: the Harrier ‘grab’ system (the offi cial term was Skyhook) and quite a few ships (Type 24 and 25 frigates, 43 and 44 destroyers, CVA01 and 02).

And some bits of futuristic nautical technology do become reality. Or even virtual reality. Two years ago we featured the work of the Serious Games team at the University of Birmingham and hailed an upcoming simulation for the Silent Service, SubSafe. And two years down the line – after being trialed among the deep community at the Submarine School in HMS Raleigh – the enhanced version of the boat simulator is about to be rolled out (cunningly called SubSafe 2), a recreation of the forward end of HMS Trenchant. The trial version allowed trainees to ‘walk’ around the ‘business end’ (with apologies to the marine engineers…) of a nuclear submarine, get used to the layout and learn where important safety features – valves, fi re extinguishers, oxygen canisters and the like – could be found. The software developers spent four half days taking photographs of a T-boat’s forward compartments… and seven days uploading all those images on to their computer system to begin creating their virtual world.

Add 18 months or so of experimental evaluation with, and feedback from the Silent Service and… SubSafe 2 is developed.

Like its predecessor, the simulator uses the software engine from gaming but instead of blasting aliens and the like, it’s adapted for more worthwhile, serious uses… hence the Serious Games name. So what does SubSafe 2 do that the original doesn’t? Well, there’s wind for a start. “When we fi rst showed it, the chief petty

offi cers complained that the fl ags on the casing didn’t move in the wind and the river wasn’t moving,” explains Professor Bob Stone of the University of Birmingham and Research Director for the UK’s Human Factors Integration Defence Technology Centre.

A mock-up boat at Raleigh would be, well, a tad pricey. Creating a simulated submarine, however, is a far more (virtual) realistic proposition. As well as in the classroom under the guidance of instructors, the aim is for budding deeps to learn their way around a boat via SubSafe on their laptops and PCs (the classifi ed bits of Trenchant can’t be seen on the simulation) and ultimately on iPod, iPads and other hand-held devices. Simulation is not a training panacea rather a training aid. “We’re not saying that it should replace going on a submarine,” Cdr Meredith stresses. “But if you think about it, pilots do most of their training in a simulator before qualifying.

This may seem a tad indulgent but if you want trainee deeps to be drawn into the virtual world, that virtual world has to be believable. “It’s all about how realistic the simulation needs to be in order to get the users’ buy- in,” Prof Stone adds. “If you don’t engage them right from the moment the simulation fi res up, then it’s really diffi cult to get them to benefi t from what the technology is trying to deliver.” It’s not just about the wind and the

waves. SubSafe 2 also simulates safety- critical events, like hydraulic valve and high-pressure air bursts, fi re, smoke and compartment fl ooding.

The submarine school has been testing – and impressed by – the fi rst version of SubSafe, but it’s version 2.0 which has the school’s CO Cdr Nick Meredith fi red up. “It brilliantly demonstrates the advances in training technology – we’re just tapping its potential at the moment.

“Synthetic training aids such as SubSafe bridge the gap between what we can do in the classroom and what we can do in a boat.

standard of knowledge – or better – as before, but quicker.”

“The aim is to get sailors to the same

But why do we need a boat simulator? Given the demands that the Silent Service faces operationally, there’s no guarantee of a boat being available across the Hamoaze in Devonport for trainees to get their bearings.

learned your way around it at the same time as you learned how to do your job. “Now, with simulation, we can send submariners to sea in a far better state of preparation than they have been before.” To that end, SubSafe 2 takes training to the next level: fi re, smoke and fl ooding – submariners’ worst nightmares – now feature. “There’s massive potential for all forms of synthetic training,” says Cdr Meredith. “In the future we’re looking at things such as damage-control training.” Hence the fi re, smoke and water. The idea eventually is to hook several computers up, so that trainees can tackle a problem such as a galley fi re or compartment fl ood as a team – as they would do on a boat.

It is also an aim to use the forward escape compartment of the virtual boat to support submarine escape training. Not recreating the actual experience of exiting the escape tower into the murky waters outside, but the procedures necessary to fl ood and drain the tower safely, especially for the “last man out”.

“In the past, you joined a boat and you

onboard a real submarine is SubSafe? “Creating the ambience of a submarine, such as the junior rates’ bunk space is probably a little too advanced at the moment,” Prof Stone explains. “We have experimented with a smell delivery system – in the next three to fi ve years the technology might just make it possible.” Ambience. That’s a new word for it…

And how true to the environment

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