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Enhancing Operational Police Training in High Stress Situations with Virtual Reality: Experiences, Tools and Guidelines

This paper explores the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in training police officers for high-stress situations. It summarizes the results of our three-year H2020 SHOTPROS project which looked at requirements from experienced police trainers and industry experts. The paper highlights the importance of matching training with VR capabilities and shows that VR training leads to real-world improvements in police duties. The paper can be found here.

RE-liON's newest VR fire fighting system on track for delivery

We’re proud to announce that RE-liON has achieved a key milestone for our ASEAN project: we’ve just completed the Critical Design Review for a new VR fire fighting training and assessment system.

Achieving this milestone is important for the customer and for us, to align expectations in the requirements and delivery timeline”, says our Manager of Operations, Niek Oude Essink Nijhuis.

This is the first time RE-liON delivers directly to that specific Government. It’s a milestone in the company’s history: the customer has a well-known reputation and the country is seen as Asia’s technology capital. That’s why it’s an honor and a mark of approval to have this project awarded to RE-liON”.

RE-liON was awarded the contract in March. The next milestone will be the factory acceptance tests at the end of 2022. After delivery, our local partner Starburst, will collaborate with us for the sustainment of the system.

SHOTPROS - Police VR Scenario Tech Demo

Last week during the H2020 Review, the SHOTPROS consortium presented the first results of the VR world used in the second high-stress terrorism scenario. Both scenario and the VR world are being co-developed together in an iterative process with the research partners as well as the end-user stakeholders: the 5 police agencies (LEA’s) involved in the consortium. This ensures a good result.

This VR world is a good example of a multi-purpose environment that allows multiple scenarios ranging from low-stress to high-stress:

  • Vehicle search
  • Pub fight
  • Knife crime
  • Explosive Improvised Devices (IED) threats
  • Vehicle ramming into a crowd on a public square
  • Etc.

What makes a Smartvest Smart?

You might wonder: what’s a Smartvest and why is it smart anyways? It’s smart due to all the electronics in it that are interacting together in a way that benefits instead of disturbing the user.

Let’s get into more detail of what is needed to make this work.

How to Design your Virtual Reality Training System?

Training using VR requires complex technology camouflaged as easy to use. Preferably, it also shouldn’t look like a computer, otherwise, IT-adverse people will refrain from going anywhere near it. A list of users wants and needs:
  1. To be immersed into the digital world
  2. Realism in graphics and sound
  3. A natural way of interacting with the digital world
  4. To interact with multiple users in the digital world
  5. To move freely
  6. To put on and remove equipment in approximately 5 minutes
  7. Bio-signal feedback
  8. A one-size-fits-all
  9. A hygienic solution

Design decisions become easier if there is:

  • no need for physical interaction or
  • if the number of users in VR in the same physical room is below 2 to 4.

After going through the design process, we ended up with the Smartvest as shown above for certain type of training: CQB, Small Unit Tactics, etc. In these situations, being able to have physical contact and quickly being able to use many different replica tools in VR is very important.

This one of the reasons behind the Smartvest.

In the image above, the grey parts are part of the Smartvest. It’s basically a tactical vest with extensions for head, arms and legs and a VR headset. Attached to the vest is the computing box or, in simpler words: a wearable computer or in jargon, a VR backpack. Let’s walk through these wants and needs one-by-one.

R1: Users need to be immersed into the Digital World

This requires a VR headset with enough display resolution to be able to render all details in the digital world. Plus: the lenses in the VR headset need a wide enough field-of-view to be able to use eye-movement instead of head-movement. This in turn requires fast response times; long delays of head movement, known as latency, cause motion sickness.

R2: Users want realism in Graphics and Sound

Users want to be able to see a lively digital world: buildings, vegetation, characters, cars, busses, environmental sounds, wind effects, movement, etc. They expect the digital world to be a close approximation of the real world. In other words, for example: playstation-10 or Xbox-20 style-graphics.

In police de-escalation or military training, users want to be able to spot if a digital character at a distance of 3-10 meters is carrying a pen or a knife in its hands.

Everything in the digital world can be a trigger to decide and act.

The Math(ish) of the balance between Graphical Realism, Computing Power and battery life:

Consequences of this balance:
  • Add a digital character = less power left for realism and/or smaller digital world and/or…
  • Increase realism = less vegetation and/or less objects and/or ….
  • Longer playtime on 1 set of batteries = less realism and/or …

R3: Users want a natural way of interacting with the Digital World

The speed of action and type of training: more cognitive or motor skills determine how natural interaction needs to feel with the digital environment. For example:

  • To walk around, is it ok to use a small joystick on a VR controller, is it ok to use teleporting in VR or is real walking/running/crawling a requirement?
  • Another example is physical interaction: is this necessary? If not, then this eliminates the need for capturing full body motion.
  • To use certain tools replicated in the VR environment, is it ok to use a VR controller with buttons and a joystick or is a replica of the physical tool required?
  • And if replica tools are needed, how many of these replica tools need to be used in VR at the same time?

Is haptic feedback, the experience of touch through force or vibration, necessary? If so, only on one point or throughout your body? This point is linked to natural movement: if you are using VR controllers or teleporting for locomotion, haptic feedback is a nice to have. If you are physically moving around, then it is a need to have to warn users when they are on the brink of walking through digital walls or other structural elements.

An example when this frequently happens: when users are facing forward but walking backwards in for example a de-escalation situation: without haptic feedback, users will end up in another digital room (or physical obstacle) if they keep walking backwards without having a warning.

Our smartvest has 12 integrated microcontrollers that are placed throughout your body. Each microcontroller gives you a bit of haptic feedback.

We can vary frequency and amplitude of the feedback giving trainees different cues with our software. For example: walking into a virtual wall, touching a virtual table or feeling a simulated character touching you on the shoulders.

R4: Users need to interact with others in the Digital World

VR devices need to be in contact through a multi-user network for multiple users to be able to interact. The number of interacting users in the same physical space dictates if wireless streaming of graphics and audio from a powerful PC to a VR device can be used or if they need a wearable computer strapped to their body that is in turn connected to the VR device.

R5: Users want to move around freely in the Physical World

Users immersed in the digital world are not sufficiently aware of the physical world, this is exactly the point. Therefore, users need to be able to move around freely without cables attached. Otherwise, users and equipment could end up damaged when moving too far.

No cables attached is easy when using wireless streaming from a powerful PC on the side to your VR headset. However this becomes a hurdle when there’s a larger number of users in the same physical location. The interference due to wireless VR streaming then becomes an issue and cables between a PC and VR device are needed.

To prevent this issue, you can use VR backpacks (= wearable computers). They’re worn by the user with a short cable from the VR backpack to the VR headset. These VR backpacks do need to be able to run at least 1.5-2 hours on one battery charge, otherwise training with multiple users becomes a logistical nightmare of changing batteries

R6: Users want to put on and remove equipment in < 5 minutes

In the end, production of training or rapid use in operations is a key argument for an organization to use VR as a tool. From an efficiency point of view, it’s counter-productive if the trainee has to wear 10-20 different devices, turn them all on, can get entangled in wires, cause damage, etc and the inverse again when removing equipment after training.

That’s why its best to have one piece of equipment that can be turned on/off with one switch, and has one hot-swappable power source.

R7: Bio-signal Feedback

Digital training tools like VR offer the benefit of objective measurements. For example how or how fast tasks are executed. Next to task performance, it is also interesting to know why performance is the way it is. Recording and replaying bio-signals can help out in this area. In the H2020 Shotpros project for instance, we are measuring different signals that can be indicators for stress.

R8: Users need a one-size-fits-all-solution

People come in all shapes and sizes so how do we cope with this? Elastic textiles to the rescue! Parts of the Smartvest are elastic to accommodate for this challenge. Another option is to provide sets in different sizes but this requires duplicating electronics and cables. One-size-fits-all keeps VR affordable.

R9: Users need a hygienic solution

Contrary to desktop VR when you’re sitting behind your desk, you’ll start to sweat when going through natural and exciting movements in VR. After use, the Smartvests can be cleaned with an anti-bacterial and anti-odor spray. This prevents nasty surprises for the next user.


Not every type of training needs a Smartvest. For instance in approximately 80% of de-escalation police training, a simpler model of VR can be used. More on that to come in the near future!

The Smartvest is a ‘SUIT’ that is completely programmable based on the needs of the user. Smart eh? Designed in The Netherlands, produced in the EU.

10X Improvement in Fire Services training using REDSUIT

We collaborated with Twente Fire Services to create this short video. They use REDSUIT to train reconnaissance skills and compartment fire-fighting.

Some time ago, Twente Fire Services recognised the limits of their regular training programme and they indicated that they could not ignore the benefits of virtual training anymore. Therefore, they joined the REDSUIT co-development program. Twente Fire Services are using REDSUIT to remove overhead and speed up cognitive and motor skill training. The scenarios feature an array of stressors and training environments and include realistic replica equipment. This complete package stimulates and motivates the trainees.

The result? A 10x improvement in diversity of situations trained compared to regular training.

Of course, this is not a complete replacement of regular training. REDSUIT improves regular training: it ensures trainees have the right skills and are safe when going into a live burn house. and ensures that instructors have insight in trainee performance. . This ensures trainees are ready and safe when going into a live burn house.

Netherlands Prison Service (DJI) completes VR training program

A team of RE-liON supported a 2-week BLACKSUIT training event for 2 tactical units of the Custodial Institutions Agency (MinJ&V BOT/LBB). The event proved to be an excellent test case for the new hard- and software upgrades RE-liON has been developing lately.

Each day a 4-hour session was provided at our training location, for a total of approximately 75 trainees and instructors.


Training statistics clearly confirmed one of the big benefits of VR: rapid variations around 1-2 training goals and a quick turnaround time between scenarios. Instructors were highly impressed by the deep insight offered through the After Action Review.

SUIT VR Backpack Mk2 Nearing Completion

We can finally share a little progress update on our new SUIT release. Following weeks of development, I am happy to share some details of the progress. We’re planning to release this new SUIT Mk2 in the spring.

We launched the first release of SUIT in 2017. Since then, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and collected customer insight, as well as new needs and wishes. We’ve integrated many of these in the new SUIT Mk2 VR backpack.

The picture shows the 2 generations side-by-side. The new Mk2 computing box is designed from scratch and housed in a custom-made metal shell. We added many benefits like extra computing power and improved moisture resistance.

The extra computing power gives you added possibilities. You can now use:

  • larger virtual environments
  • more computer generated avatars (such as crowds)
  • higher resolution of visuals in the Head Mounted Display.

The higher resolution makes quite a difference during a scenario: “is the person in front of me holding a pencil or is it a weapon?”

Rain and batteries are not a very good combination! We moved the batteries from the front of the Smart Vest to inside the computing box. The added protection takes us closer to an outdoor-proof version of the SUIT system.

We’ll be testing the new equipment extensively in the coming weeks to see how it behaves in real training conditions. More to follow soon!

Thoughts about increasing Efficiency in Learning

Many courses take place at the (central) training centres. This is not always practical nor efficient. This is especially visible during this pandemic, now we’re all forced to work from home and limit physical contact with our colleagues.

Many organizations have already split their curricula in individual and collective training. One can also break out the individual training into smaller elements, for example according to Bloom’s taxonomy (see a few posts earlier):

This way, you get building blocks that provide you organizational flexibility in the When, Where and How you provide your training courses. Some of those building blocks are very suitable to learn through a bring-you-own (VR) device while at home or waiting somewhere.

Examples using Bloom's taxonomy

From all of Bloom’s learning phases, only the Apply phase requires psycho-motor skills. All the other phases can also be trained without, when we look at, for example, first responder training.

To illustrate: The Remember and Understand phases can be learned in VR just by visualising the procedure, looking at it from different angles or at different speeds (slow motion or frozen in time). Good candidates for police training could be: How to stop a vehicle; how a car or person checkpoint is setup and executed; how to recognize different type of doors in room clearing, etc. The possibilities are endless.

This video offers a good explanation on visualisation techniques:

You learn higher order skills during the Analyse and Evaluate phases. These are gained by actively taking part in after action reviews of your own, or your colleague’s behaviour. Finally, the Create phase is applicable to instructors who want to come up with variations in scenarios required to achieve certain learning goals.

Do you have great examples of scenarios applicable to your field, that would be suitable to train anywhere, anytime? Which skills would you like to train if you have 20 mins to kill in a waiting room. A boss-approved version of Angry Birds, that would make you better and faster at your job?

The Impact of Informal After Action Reviews

Made it just in time before the end of my week. Every once in a while, you come across articles that are worthwhile spending time on. This is an article about After Action Reviews (AARs) that includes a practical template. It takes about 10 minutes to read: Police1: The AAR, an effective assessment tool for police

The author makes a distinction between a formal and informal AAR. The informal process is quick and takes place immediately after a notable event. The formal AAR takes place after finishing up the training session, and takes more time.

The After Action Review in Virtual Reality Training
Informal AARs work very well when training small units using simulation. Simulation technology encourages the use of an AAR immediately after an incident. You can playback the event, and it’s practically effortless to reset the scenario to try again. Skipping the AAR is a great opportunity wasted… For more scientific background on the value of the AAR, read the paper “The effect of immediate feedback and after-action reviews (AARs) on learning, retention and transfer” by Michael Sanders (2005).

Tactical Belt Prototype in H2020 SHOTPROS

Last week’s post was about the Horizon 2020 Shotpros project. This week as well. I can finally give you a peek of our deliverables now that we’re past the mid-term review. The University of Leuven in Belgium held interviews with many of the participating Police Forces. The outcome shows the majority agrees that more realistic training equals an improved learning experience.

Realistic Training?

In many first responder type organizations, instructors refer to the ‘train as you fight’ or ‘fight as you train’ philosophy . According to instructors, the definition of this term is immersing learners in a realistic training environment using realistic equipment. If this equipment is body-worn, then it needs to be present at the place where the learner expects it to stimulate muscle-memory. The definition is a bit problematic though as all training, traditional and VR, is an approximation. No training except the real operation is realistic. 

The tactical belt shown below is developed for this ‘train as you fight’ purpose. A mix of passive electronics and 3D printing was used to keep it as affordable as possible.

BLUESUIT Tactical Belt

Is Realistic Always Required?

Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends on what you need to learn. Benjamin Bloom developed a nice way to split the types of skills you can learn into three categories:
  • Cognitive: thinking
  • Affective: feeling, emotions
  • Psychomotor: doing
This means that per task, you can choose to focus on a specific skill.Benjamin Bloom

An example

Pilot training is a great example in this area: a pilot uses a scala of tools. Each tool has a place depending on what you need to learn and its efficiency. Pilots start out with e-learning, then move to a Flight Training Device (a mockup dashboard to become more familiar with the controls), followed by the flight simulator and finally, the actual device itself (plane, helicopter, etc).

The reason behind this method is efficiency or whatever the organization you work for is trying to achieve (motivation of learners, increase in quality of learners, etc).

PWC coined the term digital transformation for a good reason….

Disclaimer: this project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No 833672. The content reflects only the Shotpros consortium’s view. Research Executive Agency and European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.