From video games to industrial simulation

Havok, a company that built its reputation on video games and movie special effects, moves into industrial simulation platforms. What might this mean?


One of the discussion topics that comes up again and again these days is how industrial control system designers can use the fantastic capabilities of digital imaging in industrial HMIs. Some in the business contend that workers raised with Xbox or PlayStation game controllers in their hands find a typical industrial control system hopelessly boring. (See a recent example of this discussion from ABB.)

Sensing an opportunity, Havok is launching a new division to work with military and simulation platforms that will reach into industrial applications. Just in case you don’t recognize the name, Havok (an Intel company) is a major provider of interactive software and services for digital media creators in the games, entertainment, and simulation industries. It works with many game developers, including Microsoft Games Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, THQ, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Bungie, and Naughty Dog. Havok’s cross-platform technology is available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation3, Android Gingerbread, iOS, Wii, PlayStationPortable, PC Games for Windows, Apple Mac OS, and Linux. The list of games that incorporate Havok software at some level is very long.

So Havok has launched a new business unit dedicated to developing and supporting military and simulation systems. It intends to capitalize on its expertise gained from years in the games industry, and says it wants to develop interactive, high-fidelity simulation environments of incomparable realism. To lead the initiative, Havok has appointed Cory Kumm direct the new group. He has more than 14 years of experience defining, developing, and delivering products, services, and training programs for entertainment, commercial games, and the military. 

There is little doubt that a company like this could create some truly spectacular simulation platforms. With enough money, you could create an entire virtual plant and see anything you wanted up close. Such things already exist, at least to some degree, but they are probably very crude compared to what could be next. The questions that we have to ask are if such things are truly necessary to engage the next generation of plant operators, and if having those capabilities will actually make running a plant more effective.

Time will tell. System designers will have to consider these developments carefully. Ultimately one of the major determining points will likely be (I hope) how such graphics help operators cope with abnormal situations. Studies show that we should not underestimate the effect that an operator can have in a moment of panic if he or she is not clear on what is happening during an upset and what the next step is. Operators in those situations generally make the problem worse.

Of course there is the possibility that such simulations may be a huge advance in training. That will require a lot of creativity for how the capabilities are applied, but creativity is something that game producers seem to have in abundance.

Peter Welander,

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