Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the nationality of the military using Eight360′s NOVA platform. That has been updated to reflect New Zealand as the country.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand Defence Force is using a virtual reality platform that is helping drivers train for amphibious assault missions, a military official told Defense News.
Eight360′s NOVA is an immersive, untethered VR platform shaped like a ball that allows for 360-degree movement on all axes. Mark Baddeley, director of emerging technologies for NZDF’s Joint Defence Services, said the Army is eyeing it to improve driver safety.
“The initial exploration tested vehicles moving from the multirole vessel HMNZS Canterbury onto a landing craft and then onto a beach. This can be challenging to practice in real life, as it requires the coordinated availability of personnel, vehicles, ships, landing craft, weather conditions and the beach itself,” Baddeley said.
Since the military can’t regularly practice these amphibious maneuvers, there is a risk of skill fade, said Baddeley.
“Using NOVA allows different driving situations — and sea states — to be replicated, improving sustainability as well as real costs in terms of wear and tear and fuel,” he added. “We started the simulator with the Cat 938K front-end loader, an expensive vehicle that requires different skills to maneuver [amphibiously]. We worked with Eight360 to develop content that mimicked not only the ramp angles required but also the guide who supports the driver in the transition, making the scenario as realistic as possible.”
The NZDF is also using NOVA to practice off-road vehicle-handling skills for the Army’s six-wheeled medium heavy operational vehicle fleet.
Independent defense consultant Gordon Crane told Defense News that those trucks are constantly breaking down due to their cross-country trips.
“That’s what happens when you don’t specify better shock absorbers. Initially the Army guys were suspicious that the NOVA would be too much fun for training, but they quickly discovered that when you do something wrong in the simulator, when you roll the truck over, you feel it, you don’t enjoy it,” Crane said.
“I’ve experienced driving a [medium heavy operational vehicle] in NOVA, and it’s not at all comfortable. That’s really important because you are learning cross-country skills without any wear and tear or damage to the trucks themselves.”
Baddeley said the NZDF has begun developing simulations through NOVA for other Army vehicles, enabling the service them to test a wider operating concept across multiple training scenarios.
NOVA weighs less than 1,100 pounds, is 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet, and can be moved on a pallet jack. “You can just roll it into a container and take it places,” said Terry Miller, the founder and chief technology officer of Eight360.
The company demonstrated NOVA at the Australian Land Forces show in Brisbane in June 2021, and it was marketed by the company’s Australian partner, Queensland-based space and defense simulation company Raytracer.
Eight360 also has a strategic partner in the U.S. — Brightline Interactive. The Virginia-based company plans to take NOVA to Florida in November for the military simulation and training conference I/ITSEC.