Sandia Leverages AR for Serious
February 13, 2017
When you hear the term “serious
gaming” you might envision professional eSports competitors gearing up
for a League of Legends World Championship in front of tens of thousands
of live fans and tens of millions of streaming fans.
than a pretty picture, Tam Le, left, and Todd Noel use augmented reality
headsets to help train physical security personnel from around the
At Sandia National Laboratories, serious gaming means something else
entirely. Experts on physical security at Sandia apply the technology
and methods of the game industry to real-world national security
problems. Using pre-release stand-alone augmented reality headsets,
computer scientists Tam Le and Todd Noel have recently adapted augmented
reality to enhance physical security training and analysis.
“Physical security goes beyond guards, gates and guns to include
engineered solutions and complex systems that are designed to protect
against the theft of nuclear materials and sabotage,” said Dominic
Martinez, manager of the International Nuclear Security Engineering (INSE)
As part of Sandia’s center for Global Security and Cooperation, the goal
of this department is to improve the security of vulnerable stockpiles
of nuclear weapons and nuclear material worldwide. They are experts in
physical security system design, installation and analysis and they
assist with technical exchanges and applying nuclear security best
practices. They provide their expertise to the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s
International Nuclear Security programs.
Educating others to secure nuclear materials
Sandia has developed an extensive physical security training curriculum
ranging from introductory classroom courses on the fundamentals of
designing physical protection systems to more advanced training with
hands-on field exercises conducting vulnerability assessments.
“It is important to educate others on how to properly secure nuclear
materials around the world,” said Martinez. “These professional
development courses help minimize the learning curve and bring everyone
up to international standards and best practices as fast as possible.”
One of the workshops Sandia teaches in collaboration with NNSA and IAEA
is straightforwardly called the International Training Course (ITC).
This three-week course has been conducted every year and a half for more
than 35 years, with frequent revisions to reflect improving technologies
and international best practices.
ITC is an exercise-intensive course built around designing a physical
protection system for a hypothetical nuclear power reactor or nuclear
storage facility. Originally, the facility was presented as a floor plan
on paper, but several years ago Le created 3-D models of the
hypothetical nuclear facilities to enhance the students’ understanding
of the layout.
“We model the mock facilities so the students can see the spatial
relationships, see where things are in relation to each other. This
helps them to understand a facility’s vulnerabilities, which can be
difficult to see on paper or in writing,” Le said.
Enhancing lessons with augmented reality
In addition to Le’s more classical simulations and visualizations for
the ITC and other training courses, his recent work with augmented
reality has the potential to revolutionize how the nuclear security
engineering training team conducts workshops.
By combining augmented reality technology with Sandia’s Integrated
Security Facility, Le said students can peer through walls to show all
the processes needed to handle and protect nuclear material without
using hazardous material. The facility uses the security systems
originally designed to protect Category I nuclear material and now
serves as a venue for hands-on physical security training. With its
fully functional physical security and material accounting systems, the
facility is invaluable for demonstrating physical security, material
control as well as safety concepts and principles.
same day the team received the augmented reality hardware, Noel created
a camera placement tool that lets users add virtual sensors and cameras
and then see what their fields of view would be in real time in the
The team uses the same software as small game-development companies to
develop many of their training and analysis tools without having to
create everything from scratch. “We simply took the industry standard
tools used for game development and applied them to our national
security challenges,” said Le.
“With augmented reality we’re able to do things that we wouldn’t
normally be able to do. We can show virtual characters handling
material, putting it into the system, show how the material is taken
out, the material flow, understand the vulnerabilities and where
materials can be lost. With this technology, we can actually show what
is going on behind the walls,” said Le. “The application of these new
holographic technologies will shape the future of our visualization,
training and analysis capabilities and is only limited by our