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Virtual Kismayo, Somalia
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Virtual Kismayo, Somalia

To meet a shifting focus of training and simulation needs by the U.S. military and its allies to the Horn of Africa, MetaVR has built a 3D virtual representation of the southern Somalia port city of Kismayo (also spelled Kismaayo). The terrain is populated with hundreds of geographically specific culture models built from ground-level photographs taken on the streets of Kismayo. In addition to these geolocated and photographically specific models of buildings and other structures, several hundred other buildings were modeled by matching the structural footprints visible in the imagery as geographically typical models with culturally and architecturally accurate details.

Real-time scene in MetaVR Virtual Reality Scene Generator (VRSG) of MetaVR's high-resolution virtual terrain of the port city of Kismayo, Somalia. Click below for full-screen image.
MetaVR's high-resolution virtual terrain of the port city of Kismaayo, Somalia.

The models are combined with 50 cm per-pixel Digital Globe (GeoEye-1) satellite imagery covering 1,017 sq km of the southern Somalia port city and are blended into 15-meter natural view imagery of all of Somalia with SRTM void filled elevation source data. This virtual terrain was built in MetaVR’s round-earth format for visualizing in the company’s Virtual Reality Scene Generator™ (VRSG™) and is available at no charge to customers with active software maintenance. The terrain database is an entirely self-financed venture by MetaVR.

Comparison of a street-level photograph of a building with a VRSG scene with a model of the same building on the Kismayo virtual terrain.
MetaVR's Kismaayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG. MetaVR's Kismaayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG.
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MetaVR chose to build the Kismayo 3D virtual environment because the city contains varied terrain representative of important training environments, from a built-up port to dense urban streets to a sparsely populated outer region that includes a commercial airport.

Comparison of a photograph of the peninsula area of the port with a VRSG scene of the same area on the virtual terrain (with U.S. naval vessels). Photo courtesy of AU/UN IST.
MetaVR's Kismayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG.
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Because of the highly detailed geospecific nature of the virtual Kismayo terrain, this database can be used for a variety of training purposes: unmanned vehicle (UAV) operators practicing target identification, JTACs coordinating ground strikes, ground units participating in exercises of urban insurgent clashes, helicopter pilots practicing landing drills, amphibious operations, and littoral security missions. In each case, actual geolocated structures can be used as landmarks rather than the typical use of maps.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene of Kismayo port area featuring a variety of U.S. vessels including the MCM.
Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene of Kismaayo port featuring a variety of vessels.

Located in southwest Somalia in the Lower Jubba region, Kismayo is situated 328 miles southwest of Mogadishu and 143 miles south of Barawe, the stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group Al-Shabab, which was raided by U.S. Special Forces in October 2013. With a population of approximately 200,000 people, Kismayo is the third largest city of Somalia. The African Union-United Nations Information Support Team, serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) helped capture the strategically and economically important port city of Kismayo from Al-Shabab in early October 2012. Al-Shabab, which already controlled large swathes of country, gained control of most of the city in 2006, and Kismayo became an economic hub to the militants.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene from a Kismayo scenario featuring activities of Al Shabaab militants.
Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene from a Kismaayo scenario featuring activities of Al Shabaab militants.

VRSG simulated sensor view of MetaVR's virtual Kismaayo terrain.
VRSG simulated sensor view of Al Shabaab militants on the move in a scenario on the virtual Kismayo terrain.

The charcoal trade, a major part of the city’s economy, grew substantially under Al-Shabab and became the insurgent’s most lucrative source of income. The ongoing, illegal charcoal trade has led to significant deforestation of Somalia. The charcoal is shipped to the Middle East by traders using small traditional dhow sailing vessels. Kismayo is still actively contested by the Al-Shabab and is routinely patrolled by AMISOM forces.

Real-time scenario in VRSG of the port and littoral area of the Kismayo 3D terrain featuring custom-built 3D structures that match the building footprints found on the source imagery, and US naval vessels and other models from MetaVR’s 3D content libraries.
MetaVR's Kismayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG. MetaVR's Kismayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG.
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The terrain was built with MetaVR Terrain Tools for Esri® ArcGIS®. Culture models were built with Luxology Modo and Autodesk 3ds Max modeling tools. For placing persistent cultural features on the terrain such as geotypical buildings, street elements, vegetation, and rubble, VRSG Scenario Editor was used as part of the terrain workflow.

Workflow for building the terrain in MetaVR Terrain Tools for ArcGIS, with imagery and resulting terrain.
MetaVR Kismaayo database rendered in VRSG.

Users can expand the Kismayo terrain with additional 3D terrain built from imagery and elevation data of other areas of Somalia or elsewhere in Africa, and with Scenario Editor, rapidly build up culture with models delivered with the Kismayo terrain.

Workflow for creating a building model in Autodesk 3ds Max from a photograph, placing a donkey and cart in front of the building in Scenario Editor, and the resulting scene in VRSG.
MetaVR Kismaayo database rendered in VRSG.

Key areas of the virtual city such as the commercial district with the green arch and monument include not only geospecific buildings, but photospecific signs and trees of species indigenous to the region (acacia, cassia and palm). Photographs were used as the basis for unique building textures such that individual buildings are easily identifiable.

Real-time VRSG scenes of the Kismayo urban photospecific and geospecific buildings.
MetaVR's virtual Kismaayo terrain.

Located within the urban setting are dense geospecific displacement camps, which include realistic textures of various material types common to the area. Such materials are used on the makeshift huts and shelters that include open doorways and interiors.

Real-time VRSG scenes of the makeshift huts and shelters in one of the displaced persons encampments.
MetaVR's virtual Kismaayo terrain.

Every structure on the virtual port has modeled interiors, including stairways. Some 2,000 street-level photographs of Kismayo with GPS coordinates are available to MetaVR customers as additional source information.

Real-time VRSG scenes of the Kismayo urban photospecific and geospecific buildings, signage and other culture.
MetaVR's virtual Kismaayo terrain.

MetaVR is building models of all the major types of U.S. military ships, in particular ships and ground vehicles to support amphibious operations. The ships contain a level of detail that supports first-person level realism on the ship exterior.

Several other sea vessel models, ranging from skiffs, dhows, and fishing vessels, to major transport ships are placed along the port; many more are in the 3D model libraries delivered with the database.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene of the Kismayo port area featuring custom-built 3D structures that match the building footprints found on the source imagery, and commercial vessels and other models from MetaVR’s 3D content libraries.
Real-time MetaVR VRSG scene of Kismaayo port featuring commercial sea vessels.

Other commercial vehicle models built to use with this database include charcoal transportation trucks which are specific to Kismayo and created using ground-level photographs, and donkey carts and minivan cabs. The trucks are modeled with and without charcoal bags or sacks of World Food Program (WFP) relief food.

A set of Somali civilian, AMISON soldier, and Al Shabaab character models are included in the model libraries with the database. The Al Shabaab characters have authentic scarf patterns on their uniforms that match actual photographs of the militants from Internet sources.

Real-time VRSG scenes of the Kismayo 3D terrain featuring Somali civilian characters.
MetaVR's Kismaayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG. MetaVR's Kismaayo 3D terrain rendered in VRSG.
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VRSG Scenario Editor was used to create multiple scenarios that are delivered with the terrain. One such scenario features US Special Forces with UAVs and AMSOM troops who identify Al Shabaab militants coercing local civilians to engage in the illegal charcoal trade. The Al Shabaab forces are tracked to a hut area on the outskirts of town that is reinforced with additional insurgents and technical vehicles. A significant amount of vehicular and human activity was added to the scenario in Scenario Editor to create realistic patterns of life. Click here to see real-time VRSG recordings of some of the scenarios.

The following set of images compares the ground-level photographs taken on the streets of Kismayo with the corresponding building or other structure on the terrain rendered in VRSG.

Street photo of a building in Kismaayo, Somalia. MetaVR VRSG rendering of street scene in Kismaayo, Somalia.
Street photo of Kismaayo, Somalia. MetaVR VRSG rendering of street scene in Kismaayo, Somalia.
Street photo of a building in Kismaayo, Somalia. MetaVR VRSG rendering of street scene in Kismaayo, Somalia.
Street photo of a building in Kismaayo, Somalia. MetaVR VRSG rendering of street scene in Kismaayo, Somalia.
Street photo of a building in Kismaayo, Somalia. MetaVR VRSG rendering of street scene in Kismaayo, Somalia.
Photographs taken on the streets of Kismayo. Signage photo courtesy of AU/UN IST. VRSG real-time screen captures of the Kismayo 3D terrain.

MetaVR’s Kismayo database is available free of charge in MetaVR’s round-earth Metadesic terrain format to MetaVR customers who are on active software maintenance and are US Government or NATO agencies or contractors (for official use only). The terrain is provided in MetaVR's round-earth terrain format and will only run with a valid VRSG version 6.0 or greater software license with valid software maintenance through June 30, 2016.

 

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