At 26 years of age, ITEC has matured and grown, becoming an identifiable and well-supported event in its own right. One North American exhibitor this year said (as he almost always does) “I can’t imagine we will not continue to be at every ITEC for the foreseeable future. It’s simply the best place to meet our European customers.”
Perhaps, however, he should have said “non-American” when referring to existing or potential customers. One exhibitor – not as first timer but certainly not one of the higher profile companies – was in celebratory mode at the end of the exhibition this afternoon, having had a number of very substantive conversations with potential customers from as far away as Singapore. ITEC is truly international in nature, not “the European I/ITSEC” as some have occasionally referred to it.
Of course, not every potential customer comes to ITEC from the dark side of the moon. One German exhibitor was overheard talking about the ‘planning for serendipity’ aspect of attending exhibitions that old hands know only too well. After numerous attempts to connect with a possible customer in a country in his ‘back yard,’ he found that a naval delegation from the country concerned, visiting his booth at ITEC contained the right mix of individuals to a) understand, b) discuss intelligently and c) go away to think about the next step as far as his particular solution was concerned.
Immersion – in a word. General Pavel, Chief of Staff of the Czech Armed Forces (and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from June this year) singled immersive technologies out in his opening keynote address as one of the key technology areas that will bring training and simulation even further up the military planning agenda. Fully one third of the exhibitors at the Prague exhibition centre carried the word “immersive” on their booth signage or in their press releases and supporting materials.
Immersive technologies are hardly new. The extent to which they are being integrated, leveraged and exploited – especially by the smaller companies, who really seem to “get it,” (of which more later) as well as the ‘usual suspects – is immediately apparent to even the most casual of observers. Whether it is the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Ground-Based Training Demonstrator Device (resplendent in the livery of the Italian Air Force’s ‘Frecci Tricolore’,) or 3D perceptions Northstar dome display technology, the sine qua non of training – from the level of the individual soldier, sailor or airman to the most sophisticated and expensive full flight simulator – has become immersion. High quality graphics, high tech solutions for warping, edge blending and handling light sources all combine to immerse the trainee in a highly realistic and – more importantly – highly believable environment. Which contributes to positive training - and effective learning.
Displays and the associated engineering that goes with them has also been a hot topic this year. The number of large high resolution displays is one thing. But the sheer number of new and improved offerings is quite another.
Barco sold some of the aspects of its simulation and training business last year to Esterline, which has developed a new (to Esterline) line of business around it and rebranded it Treality Simulation Visual Systems. Leveraging the extensive legacy of products and services it acquired from Barco promises to provide a stimulating and challenging task for the company as it exercises its own undoubted skillsets in gaining market share in an increasingly demanding market.
Taking a show like ITEC to new venues is always a risk and the organisers normally manage to whether challenges with supreme competence. It must be said, however, that one of the recurring themes talking to conference delegates has been the level of ambient noise in the conference rooms. With drapes separating conference sessions, rather than floor to ceiling partition walls, a significant number of delegates found tjheir ability to hear and understand what was being said in their own session was being hampered by sounds of the session next door. A minor quibble, maybe – but delegates come to ITEC to listen, learn and contribute: difficult to do if there is aural interference.
What is slightly worrying for some observers, also, is the number of companies exhibiting. Yes, the number has probably shrunk since the heyday before the recession. And to a certain extent that’s understandable. There is a case to be made, however, that the number of entities is not necessarily the benchmark by which this type of conference should be judged, but the quality, demographic spread and nature of those entities. Small businesses, particularly, are where much of the innovation that fuels our industry stem from. Peter Morrison, CEO of Bohemia Interactive Simulations, made that very point in his contribution to the opening panel debate.
Which is a good (and carefully engineered) segué into the promised story from earlier in this blog. One of the stars of the show this year was a demonstration of an integrated training solution from no less than six small and mid-sized companies. Proving that the world opens up to organisations or vision and faith in their capabilities (coupled with the intestinal fortitude to take a risk), these companies took a recent successful sale from one of their number, supported by visual systems from two others, and added three further companies to achieve a level of synergy that can only be described as jaw dropping.
Close Air Solutions – a company with a current workforce you can number on the fingers of one hand and still clutch a bottle of Pilsner Urquell – sold an immersive simulator late last year to the British Ministry of Defence for JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) training. Supported in their innovative approach to that contract by both MetaVR and Battlespace Simulations, the three then brought in MSE Omnifintiy, with its Omnideck virtual battlespace solution, Novatech to bring the powerful computer support (or “electronic glue” as one observer was heard to mutter) and Immersive Displays Group, who did what it says on their tin but in spades. Although the real glue, for my money, lies just as much in the technical and commercial support of MetaVR.
The result? An immersive, integrated and wholly compelling hybrid warfare simulation exercise, incorporating individual JTACs (the mobile soldier), a fifth generation fighter, a Joint Fires team and hostile forces, “all integrated on the show floor in a contested environment – and it worked,” in the words of Mike Squires, Close Air Solutions’ business director.
That’s the main memory I will take away from this ITEC. A visible demonstration of what can be done by a coalition of companies collaborating for mutual benefit and offering something unique to the user. To coin a phrase that needs to be further developed – this is a “coalition of the capable.” And that’s cool!