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The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport became the first Department of the Navy command with a virtual world presence when it launched Virtual NUWC Nov. 5 at the Undersea Defense Technology (UDT) Pacific Conference in Sydney, Australia.
A premier virtual research and development facility covering 128 virtual acres representing the NUWC Newport campus, Virtual NUWC is capable of supporting more than 500 avatars at any one time. The campus features replicas of many NUWC laboratories located on the actual NUWC campus, as well as additional facilities, including a visitor’s center, movie theaters, submarine replicas, an electronic library and underwater exhibits. Because the technology is immersive, first-time visitors are required to create a free account and in the process, an avatar, which represents a 3-D depiction of their online physical presence in the virtual world.
“I directed strategic investments in virtual technologies because I believe in their ability to foster collaboration, regardless of the remote geographic locations of the participants,” said Dr. Paul Lefebvre, NUWC Division Newport’s technical director. “By utilizing state-of-the-art technologies to accomplish high performance research and development management, we can also practice effective knowledge transfer to create new value and innovative products.”
First-time visitors will arrive at the public access teleport site beside a three-story visitor’s center that includes basic information about NUWC Newport. Nearby is a Navy pier where a full-scale replica of the submarine USS Virginia is docked. For the UDT-Pacific Conference, the HMAS Collins visited the docks with a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) representative available to discuss US-RAN collaboration efforts.
An activities field will support temporary events such as job fairs and guest speakers. Scattered throughout the campus are unique Newport landmarks that link the virtual campus to the actual Newport community. Along the waterfront on the bottom portion of the campus is a 12-story electronic library tower, set on an island in the middle of Newport harbor, which features underwater exhibits designed to educate the general public about NUWC Newport’s support of Navy missions. The library also faces a 120-foot tall outdoor movie screen for mass viewing of educational media while the screen is built into a virtual convention center used to showcase the many Navy programs that NUWC supports.
Other parts of the campus are devoted to collaboration and research and development objectives. Eventually, remote users, such as Navy Sailors assessing the potential applicability of a system, will be able to use their avatars to control actual tactical hardware and software via video networking capabilities while immersed in the virtual space.
A 60-meter sonar acoustic tank will provide visualization of complex sonar problems such as environmental modeling, array characteristics and sound propagation, while a multi-story sonar lab will also support acoustic experimentation. A nearby vehicle hanger will house autonomous and unmanned vehicles that will be available for viewing and demonstration via simulation connectivity.
“With virtual collaboration, the possibilities are endless. Imagine being able to engage in a real-time, interactive, and distributed environment that allows us to visualize new systems with a remarkable degree of scalability and to change them on the fly,” said Don McCormack, NUWC technical director. “Concept of operations exercises that previously required days to set up and involved 20 to 30 Sailors can now be up and running in a virtual environment in a matter of hours, reconfigured in hours and pushed to many more participants in the fleet.”
The southwestern corner of the campus is a collaborative theatre visualization range that provides immersed scaled visualization. These 16 acres of water can be scaled to show a torpedo shot as well as live theater-level Navy exercises, where ships are reduced in scale.