Game engine switches on uni for real world protection modelling

Researchers at the Edith Cowan University in Perth have turned to video game engine, Torque 3D, to model and formulate protection methods around critical infrastructure such as the electricity grid.

Presenting at the World Computing Congress 2010 in Brisbane this week, senior lecturer at the university’s School of Computer and Security Science, Martin Masek, said that while some tools already existed for critical infrastructure, gaming engines provided an optimal base for modelling due to their interactivity, as well as integrated support for input devices and networking.

“If they’re not visualised in 3D, they’re not immersive,” he said.

“If you put yourself in the shoes of someone, it helps you come up with possibilities you might have never thought of before.”

He demonstrated how he and two other researchers from the university - games programmer, Adrian Boeing, and security expert, William Bailey - created models for small cities, providing interactivity from authorities and response personnel to enact potential situations and formulate tactics.

The possibility of using game engines for critical infrastructure visualisation has been raised by other academics, with Norway computer scientists, Nils Kalstad Svendsen and Stephen D Wolthusen, publishing a similar paper in 2007.

Masek pointed to a 2008 gas pipeline explosion in Western Australia - resulting in total losses of $6.7 billion - as an example of situations in which the visualisation technology could be used to prevent such accidents or formulate response measures.

Edith Cowan University researchers opted for Torque 3D due to its low cost and their relative experience with the tools, but Masek said more modern engines were unlikely to provide too many additional advantages beyond improved graphics. The engine has notably been used to create the first instalment in a series of games based around characters from webcomic, Penny Arcade.

Masek’s modelling technique has seen little real world use so far, but the researchers have repurposed it for another of their projects, modelling a program for a semi-autonomous robot they entered in Magic 2010 contest presented by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in Australia and the Department of Defence in the US. Masek’s team became the only Australian entrant shortlisted for the finals in the competition in June, and will face four other international teams in November competing for a top prize of $US750,000.

“It really hits the ground when you have to program robots to do things humans can’t do,” he said.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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