By Ted Pollak (contributions by Jon Peddie)
Japan's terrible situation with its nuclear power plant is heartbreaking. Especially sad are reports that some workers are exposing themselves to potentially harmful radiation levels. The bravery of these people is overwhelming.
This got me to thinking about how game technology could maybe help in situations like this and also train and educate people about risk analysis. I will disclose right off the bat that I am not an expert in this kind of thing but believe that there must be some way to modernize how we deal with such a terribly dangerous energy source. International Atomic Energy Chief Yukiya Amano seems to agree and recently made this statement in a CNN report: "The current framework for responding to emergencies....reflects the realities of the 1980s, not of the 21st century."
Location Specific Engineering Simulations
Game companies could use their expertise in simulated environments, physics, and graphics technology to start "serious game" divisions. There are numerous smaller shops that already do this. The large well known, branded firms could work with them to create economies of scale. Just about every power plant in the world has an advanced 3D model. It should be possible to import that model into a game environment (with a considerable amount of conditioning beforehand).
In the case of a plant like the General Electric reactors in Japan, volunteers willing to go in and work on the plant in a crisis should be able to train for it virtually, within a simulation that is graphically rich and able to simulate physical dynamics on the fly (quickly following known changes), such as a collapsed roof or wall. Perhaps mounted CCTV cameras and small remote control helicopter or ground vehicles could help collect this information with cameras able to export data into a 3D model and take other measurements.
One simple example that comes to mind is the model of the Chernobyl plant found in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.
Additionally, all environmental and personal parameters could be incorporated into the simulation, such as radiation levels and player-specific factors. Using a hazmat suit and carrying equipment can restrict the speed one moves as well as endurance. Visor glass can become fogged or dirty. All this can also be simulated.
The simulation could help with situations before disasters strike as well. External environmental factors could be modeled like a flood or tsunami, with accurate fluid dynamics. This data could be used to evaluate the placement of critical systems like backup generators.
Also, with an open model environment such as is found in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for example, trainees could explore and, just as in the game, discover things that were not predicted or expected. The serendipity and opportunity for discovery and creative new ideas would be a major contribution to overall plant and personal safety.
The cost of such a product could be tens of millions of dollars making it one of the most expensive games in the world. It would probably be best sold as a combination software/hardware package that could include:
- an accurately modeled and textured 3D building and surrounding environment with modeled material dynamics
- game sofware engine to import the data into with advanced physics engine, realistic lighting and consideration for wind, and other environmental elements
- internal and external fixed mount 3D cameras with other sensors, double or triple redundancy battery backup systems, and multiple wireless transmission stations
- wheeled remote control drones; 3D, thermal, and radiometer equipped, (with r/c relay amplification ability for extended range of other drones)
- tracked remote control drones; 3D, thermal, and radiometer equipped (with r/c relay amplification ability for extended range of other drones)
- helicopter or hover based r/c drones; 3D, thermal, and radiometer equipped
- mobile remote control drone command center (with optional suitcase based secondary command stations)
It sounds expensive, sure, but the money could be trivial in comparison to the costs of not dealing with a situation in the most advanced way that modern technology allows. Security, of course, is a concern too. The 3D data and simulation would have to be protected at the same level that other electronic engineering data is protected.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. seems like it could be a good starting point for the plant operators and government regulators since it is a modifiable game. Its engine could provide a base for the import of the CAD model.
One of the main elements in a simulation system (regardless of the subject, whether its finance, engineering, war, emergency systems, etc) is the injection of problems. A teacher puts in deliberate challenges, sometimes impossible to solve challenges to see how the students will deal with it.
Game players would be another good source of imaginative challenges. And even if the operators took the position, "that can never happen," testing for the reaction and cure would be helpful because guess what? If you can think of it, then it CAN happen.
Perhaps governments and power companies should be playing these games too on different levels depending on their areas of responsibility. Does the phrase China Syndrome come to mind?