The games de­signer that has taken a leap from avatars and pix­els into the un­known – real life

Bri­tish hi-tech start-up has gone out of its way to tar­get lu­cra­tive de­fence train­ing, finds James Cook

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

Spend some time re­search­ing Bri­tish tech­nol­ogy start-up Im­prob­a­ble and you’d be for­given for won­der­ing why this com­pany has earned mil­lions from sell­ing its soft­ware to the mil­i­tary. Im­prob­a­ble is mainly known for am­bi­tious video games where thou­sands of play­ers can con­trol avatars in­side vir­tual worlds.

Its largest project, for in­stance, is Scav­engers, a science fiction-themed video game which takes place in a fu­tur­is­tic world where the moon has been shat­tered by an as­ter­oid. But the same Spa­tialOS tech­nol­ogy which pow­ers Scav­engers is also be­ing used by the UK and US armed forces to run train­ing soft­ware which could rev­o­lu­tionise the way armed forces pre­pare for bat­tle.

Im­prob­a­ble has spent years hir­ing former sol­diers as well as game de­vel­op­ers to help build both its pub­lic gam­ing busi­ness but its se­cre­tive de­fence divi­sion.

This war gam­ing ser­vice has at­tracted some prom­i­nent cus­tomers. The Min­istry of De­fence has spent more than £8.3m on Im­prob­a­ble soft­ware and an­nounced yes­ter­day that it had signed an­other con­tract with the start-up.

The com­pany also signed a $5.8m (£4.4m) con­tract with the US Depart­ment of De­fence in 2017. The tech­nol­ogy is ap­peal­ing to armies around the world be­cause it lets them pre­cisely track the out­come of hun­dreds of train­ing sim­u­la­tions fea­tur­ing thou­sands of real and vir­tual sol­diers.

“Spa­tialOS can run whole ecosys­tems of so­ciopo­lit­i­cal and tech­ni­cal mod­els, en­abling highly re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ments that en­cour­age users to ex­per­i­ment, sharpen their in­tu­itions and thrive in chaotic, am­bigu­ous sce­nar­ios,”

Im­prob­a­ble writes on the web page

‘There’s a level of de­tail and re­al­ism that could only be dreamed of by war-gamers and plan­ners of the past’

‘It en­cour­ages users to ex­per­i­ment, sharpen their in­tu­itions and thrive in chaotic sce­nar­ios’

for its de­fence prod­ucts.

The war gam­ing tech­nol­ogy lets the mil­i­tary com­bine phys­i­cal train­ing ex­er­cises that in­volve sol­diers run­ning around muddy fields with oth­ers play­ing through sim­u­la­tors and video game con­trollers.

That can all be com­bined with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence con­trolled“bots” which can be used to add thou­sands of al­lied or en­emy forces.

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of thou­sands of sol­diers all in one place, per­haps de­fend­ing a coun­try’s bor­der from an in­vad­ing army, that re­quires Im­prob­a­ble’s knowl­edge of larger mul­ti­player games like Scav­engers.

This “sin­gle syn­thetic en­vi­ron­ment” (SSE), as the Army calls it, can even be tweaked to add fac­tors like the mo­rale of your troops, so­cial me­dia posts about the bat­tle and the ef­fects of cy­ber at­tacks.

“An SSE can rep­re­sent ev­ery do­main: land, air, sea, space, and cy­ber and in­for­ma­tion. It can also scale as nec­es­sary – from a build­ing or city block to an en­tire ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion – and rep­re­sent a level of de­tail and re­al­ism that could only be dreamed of by the war-gamers and plan­ners of the past,” wrote Joe Robin­son, the head of Im­prob­a­ble’s de­fence divi­sion, in a blog post. Us­ing its war gam­ing soft­ware can give sol­diers, and their com­mand­ing of­fi­cers, masses of data be­yond the fi­nal out­come of the bat­tle.

The sim­u­la­tions can mea­sure how much am­mu­ni­tion and fuel was used, as well as the sen­ti­ment of lo­cal civil­ians, the num­ber of sol­diers killed, and whether in­di­vid­ual ob­jec­tives like restor­ing power sup­plies were ac­com­plished.

Mil­i­tary com­man­ders can then run the same sim­u­la­tion hun­dreds of times, ad­just­ing things like am­mu­ni­tion sup­ply, whether cy­ber at­tacks took place, and troop mo­rale, to work out the best strate­gies.

In­sid­ers say the de­vel­op­ment of this war gam­ing tech­nol­ogy is likely to re­main a key part of Im­prob­a­ble’s busi­ness in the fu­ture.

It could be­come a lu­cra­tive source of rev­enue for a busi­ness which warned in its lat­est ac­counts in March that it “is not yet demon­strat­ing self-sus­tain­ing prof­itabil­ity”.

While the com­pany at­tracts headlines for am­bi­tious new video games us­ing its Spa­tialOS tech­nol­ogy, Im­prob­a­ble will con­tinue qui­etly hir­ing former sol­diers and Min­istry of De­fence of­fi­cials to build a lu­cra­tive side­line in war gam­ing tech­nol­ogy.

The MoD has spent £8.3m on Im­prob­a­ble train­ing soft­ware

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