Mar 25, 2019

Why training simulators should not be 'Quiet Zones'

Simulation 2 min read

When people ask me why Barco, a traditional visualization-focused company, has become the main advocate of immersive audio for simulation systems, I always tell what convinced me to make the decision to enter this space. As we were conducting our research into market needs and requirements for immersive audio, I asked a large end customer about the audio capabilities in their current training system, and their response both surprised and motivated me.

“We don’t use it”, came the reply.   Thinking they meant that audio wasn’t part of the system, they quickly corrected me.

 “Oh, we do have sound, but we turn it off because it’s too much of a distraction”. This really struck me, because I know from experience that hearing and deciphering multiple layers of aural information is vital during real missions. However, I immediately understood what they were talking about. Their audio environment was unrealistic, lacked precision in audio placement, and – apart from a small sweet spot in the center of the simulator – was unfocused and added no value to the training mission. Instead of helping the trainees, sound was a source of confusion. So it struck me: perfecting the visualization component alone will never lead to full immersion (which is the ultimate objective when applying technology to training). The sound needs to be true-to-life as well to perfect an individual’s or a team’s skill level in both commercial and military environments. At times, we perceive our world and surroundings through sound first, and providing anything less than full fidelity audio that establishes a true “ear-to-brain” connection introduces a negative training effect.

True 3D sound

Many people think that a 5.1 surround sound set creates 3D sound, but this is not correct. This is 2D, because only 2 dimensions are served. The 3rd dimension (height) is ignored, so there’s no way to determine if the sound is coming from above or below. By creating a dynamic audio environment powered by a real-time audio processor and not restricted by numbers of speakers or placement, we are able to add this extra dimension, creating a truly immersive experience.

Traditional audio setups only serve a sweet spot in the focal point of the speakers.

In many cases even more important than true 3D, is the freedom of movement in the simulator. Traditional audio setups only serve a sweet spot in the focal point of the speakers. Stand on any other place and the audio effect breaks down, which again leads to negative training.

We solve this by using object-based audio processing. In contrast to traditional channel-based audio systems where immersive effects are coded in each channelized audio stream, the parameters are the sound and its location. The distribution of this sound to the different speakers happens in real-time and is always subject to the scenario. In other words, it mimics real life more accurately. This has a number of advantages:

  • Independent of speaker setup, and possibility to introduce many more speakers to create a real 3D feeling
  • Audio cues are always aligned with visual cues
  • Compatible with any IG system and simulation network
  • No sweet spot

Combining true-to-life audio with true-to-life visualization, results in a fully immersive training environment which stimulates both eye-to-brain and ear-to-brain responses.

Do you want to know more about immersive sound, and practical examples of applications? Then come to my keynote speech at the Simulation and Training for Resilience and Safety (STRS) conference in London on the 26th of March at 16:00. I hope to see you there!

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