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Pilot training: Can airlines use Microsoft’s Kinect for flight simulation?

Training pilots can be an expensive proposition for airlines. It can cost an amateur aviator upwards of $50,000 of actual flight time to allow one to qualify for a pilot job with a major airline.

Travellers walk past an American Airlines aircraft at O'Hare International Airport on June 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

In the future, will flight simulation lessen the cost of pilot training?

Last year, NATO's Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece unveiled a first-of-kind virtual training simulation that enables sailors, marines, and soldiers to use Microsoft's Kinect gesture recognition technology.

The new simulations is called “MIOmoves” (Maritime Interdiction Operational moves) and is part of a NATO-led operational simulation project. Planners hope that Microsoft’s gaming technology will “deliver cost-effective, fully immersive operational training scenarios that enhance the capabilities of soldiers”.

The Crew Search simulation allows the trainee to assume the role of a boarding soldier investigating the possibility of illegal activity on a container vessel. Kinect’s gesture recognition lets the soldiers interact with the scenario by making hand and arm gestures.

Chris Brannigan, CEO of Caspian Learning said “it is a fantastic piece of operational training that has received positive feedback from all stakeholders,” and “that using the Kinect interface for controls seems so much like second nature, it is a wonder the system isn't in widespread use already.”

The global military training and simulation market is expected to grow in the next few years as defense planners look for more cost effective and digitized training.

Total expenditures for the industry amounted to $36.88 billion in 2012, according to Frost & Sullivan. The amount is projected to increase to $46.09 billion by 2021. “The research covers end users (air, land and naval forces), military capabilities (platform-based training, system-based training and platform maintenance-based training), and training types,” according to the research firm.

Simulation companies such as AEgis Technologies have been diversifying their revenue streams in order to hedge any risk of reductions in current and future defense spending such as the sequestration cuts taking place in the United States. The Alabama-based company has branched out to other industries including aerospace, automotive, biomedical, chemical, and other process industries that use modeling and simulation.

AEgis is leveraging its military simulation systems in order to capture new business in the gaming and social apps market. In Dec. 2012, the company offered a training module called Combat ID as a downloadable app on Google play, iOS and iTunes store.

“In addition to military equipment [modernization] driving the global T&S market, lessons have been learned from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East,” said Frost & Sullivan analyst Alix Leboulanger. “The key lesson has been that conventional training types are no longer fully adequate to prepare armed forces for military operations other than war (MOOTW's) challenging environments.”

Virtual and constructive training will grow at a very dynamic pace, according to the research firm.