High-tech SWAT team training combines Hollywood magic and video games

POSTED: Sunday, June 24, 2012 - 1:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, June 24, 2012 - 1:04pm

Texas SWAT teams are training with technology that's a mix of Hollywood magic and video games.

Motion Reality Inc. and Raytheon have partnered to distribute VIRTSIM, a public safety training system that uses virtual technology.

"We've used our technology in movies like 'Avatar' and all three 'Lord of the Rings' films," said Tom McLaughlin, CEO of Motion Reality.

Up to 13 team members, each wearing dozens of sensors that tie into the computer program, can be on the course at once.

"It's pretty much like being inside a video game," said Barry Eaves, who was participating with the rest of the McKinney police department's SWAT team.

The trainees also wear virtual reality goggles in a visor that transform their counterparts into avatars and their surroundings into any course they could design.

"You can be in a warehouse. You can be in a residential home," said Ellen Houlihan, Raytheon demonstration director.

Houlihan says departments and agencies could use VIRTSIM exercises to preplan a drug raid, for example, by mapping out its exact location and running the course, complete with armed suspects, before the actual operation.

McLaughlin said the foundation of the groundbreaking technology has been under development since the 1980s.

"This is the first system that allows you to be physically stressed while you have to make cognitive life and deaths situation decisions," he said.

Members of McKinney's SWAT team even experienced being shot by a suspect with real-time consequences.

"It'll shock you -- so there's an actual volt that shocks you through the arms," Eaves said.

The FBI is already employing VIRTSIM in its training for all new cadets at its academy at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.

While the technology is also being used on other military bases, the companies said they hope to set up regional training facilities across the country so smaller law enforcement agencies have access to the training.

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