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A New Era In Visual Simulation

Todd Landstad

Microsoft® ESP™ delivers a full, all-in-one visual simulation platform—a simulation engine, software development tools, and extensive realistic world content—that enables developers to create compelling simulations using 3D modeling tools, the Microsoft .NET Framework, C++, and XML-based training missions. The ESP simulation engine, the same one on which Microsoft Flight Simulator is built, handles the visual rendering, physics, a 5.1 Surround Sound engine, and other environmental capabilities.

Although the ESP v1.0 core technology heritage is deeply rooted in the flight industry, the future of PC-based simulation has huge potential in many areas, including human interaction, ground- and ocean-based vehicle training, and geographic and spatial navigation. These advancements come in addition to the already-tested aviation scenarios that include training for pilots and air traffic controllers.

ESP-based training could include teaching physics concepts, taking people on landmark tours, or instructing a pilot on a new airport approach. With each of these examples, students can gain new experiences while participating in 3D modeling tests in a comfortable, familiar environment that minimizes fuel and maintenance costs and eliminates the risk associated with real-world training.

The ESP platform contains four separate development kits:

The Core Utilities Kit With an API for .NET or C++ applications to interact with the platform, the Core Utilities Kit allows a developer to set environment details such as weather or aircraft state. The kit includes the ability to create AI-driven objects or place static scenery. There are more than 200 variables available to be queried or set inside the simulation.

The Environment Kit Developers can augment the living world within the platform utilizing the Environment Kit. High-resolution land textures and 3D buildings can be imported or changed using utilities provided in the SDK. In addition to static objects, dynamic special effects can be added to a specific location in the living world, such as fireworks, water fountains, or lightning.

The Mission Creation Kit Structured training experiences that guide the user through customized, goal-oriented training are possible with the Mission Creation Kit. A developer can use the included editor to create the XML-based scripted missions or combine missions with the Core Utilities API to add .NET or C++ code to interact with the training. You can combine the structured experiences with multi-user support along with a Shared Cockpit mode, which allows you to "virtually" sit with another user in the same aircraft for networked situations, communicating through built-in Voice over IP (VoIP).


ESP Delivers Flight Simulation (Click the image for a larger view)

The SimObject Kit Importing high-resolution aircraft models using traditional modeling tools is enabled by the SimObject Kit. Imported 3D models for aircraft, vehicles, ships, or other objects can include animations and customized textures as well as detailed interiors. The model interiors can have XML- or code-based gauges and realistic panels.

The ESP virtual world uses many data sources to create a detailed representation of the Earth complete with land and ocean classifications, regional architecture, scenery, and generated AI traffic. Above the Earth's surface, real-world weather conditions are represented. ESP accurately places the sun, the moon, and more than 10,000 stars based on the simulation engine's continuous time-of-day capability.

Using the various components of the ESP SDK, a developer can customize the world to meet the needs of his solution while relying on the content, simulation engine, and environment to provide the minutia—generating fog when the local temperature drops below the dew point, for example.

ESP draws on its aviation expertise and focuses on training and learning solutions, decision-support scenarios (such as disaster planning or black-box data review), and R&D modeling. A developer can transform computer-based training from checkboxes and radio buttons to a customized immersive experience that is more effective and memorable.

You can find more specific information on the simulation platform at the MSDN® Developer Center for Microsoft ESP (see msdn.microsoft.com/esp). It includes documentation, white papers, tutorials, code samples, videos, and web­casts. It also highlights the passion of the modeling and simulation community.

Todd Landstad works as a Developer Evangelist for ACES Studio at Microsoft. He joined Microsoft in 1995 and has worked on a variety of software and hardware platforms.