VATSIM: Taking R&D from Virtual to Reality
August 20, 2008
Can a fun, virtual air traffic simulation game translate into “tried and true” research and development? CAASD is exploring the possibilities through a partnership with the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM), a global aviation community on the Internet avid about flight simulation. VATSIM is comprised of over 100,000 registered users consisting of pilots, air traffic controllers, and new users interested in learning about online flight simulation and air traffic control. The network offers CAASD an opportunity for concept exploration and validation within the research and development (R&D) community that has yet to be explored. Says Principal Software Systems Engineer Frank Sogandares, “We hope to conduct virtual future National Airspace System (NAS)-level and global simulations with the group. These simulations can offer better insights into how aviation systems behave as operational changes are introduced.”
Through the CAASD/VATSIM partnership, CAASD hopes to evaluate the feasibility of using virtual gaming rooms as a method to expand R&D goals. The key is to conduct the research in a manner that will not impose upon the virtual community. “The guiding principles to meet our objectives are simple,” says Frank. “We want to ensure our collaboration is mutually beneficial, and, should we exit, our departure will be transparent to the community. We’d also like to team up our laboratory, software resources, pilots, and controllers along with VATSIM’s resources, in order to conduct our research, and ultimately find ways to give back to the virtual community.”
The impact that this partnership could make is significant. Some potential outcomes could include:
- Extending MITRE experimentation capability beyond the internal laboratory
- Improving the realism of some experiments
- Adding international talent and input
- Gaining broader exposure and feedback on new concepts and capabilities
- Quickly conducting simple experiments
- Enhancing MITRE’s on-line presence and reputation.
To date, CAASD and VATSIM have conducted three events. In January, the team planned a simple event that focused on arrivals and departures for Chicago’s two main airports – Chicago O’Hare and Midway. This was followed by two additional events in February at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The first event tested pre-departure clearance procedures, while the second explored arrival procedures, conformance to published standard terminal arrival routes (STARs), and new air traffic control (ATC) phraseology.
For each event, participants were required to dedicate more time to the experiments by familiarizing themselves with training materials, phraseology, and pre-testing to ensure they understood the material prior to the event. “We were pleased to see the number and scope of international participants for each event, along with their willingness to participate in the training process, when necessary,” says Frank.
Each experiment provided CAASD with a stronger sense of what could be accomplished through virtual aviation simulation and its participants. They discovered that VATSIM pilots valued the “gate-to-gate” experience. “We were able to develop a solid working relationship with VATSIM on two levels,” confirms Frank. “We learned about the community and its infrastructure, and gained a good understanding on how to conduct future experiments.”
To learn more about the CAASD/VATSIM partnership and details of the three events, refer to the recent article featured in the May 2008 issue of Computer Pilot Magazine.