Martin Marietta puts technology to playful use

July 31, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

You're at the controls of one of the Army's most modern tanks and the battle is heating up. Electronic equipment detects an enemy artillery unit taking aim from its position 2,000 meters off to the left and an attack helicopter, armed with deadly air-to-ground missiles, moving in fast.

The situation calls for split-second decisions and your response can be the difference between being blown to bits or living to fight another day.

Fortunately, it's only simulation. The action is taking place inside a building, but it is so real that in 1991 fighter pilots and tank crews used such simulators to hone their fighting skills before going off to battle in the Persian Gulf war.

But now, Martin Marietta Corp., the giant Bethesda-based defense contractor, is hoping that a spinoff of the battlefield trainers it produced for the military will be the biggest new video games to hit the arcades.

Martin Marietta has teamed with Sega Enterprises Ltd. of Tokyo, a world leader in the video game industry, to transfer the %J technology used in simulators developed for the military to a new commercial market.

"It's a small business for us at this time," said Marlene Duvall, a spokeswoman for Martin Marietta Information Group. "But it's one that we think we can grow."

The arcade game industry is expected to generate about $1.3 billion this year, but double by 1997, she said. Sega controls roughly 40 percent of the world market.

Martin Marietta's involvement in simulation dates back to the days when astronauts walked on the moon. The company developed a simulator used to train the Apollo astronauts in the skills needed to dock the lunar lander with the command module, a critical maneuver in landing a crew on the moon and bringing them back.

Over the years it has been involved in simulators to train crew members for the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the F-16 and F-22 fighter planes and the C-5 and C-17 cargo planes, according to John Lenyo, director of business development for Martin Marietta Information Group in Daytona, Fla.

Mr. Lenyo said that Martin Marietta's involvement was to develop the visual system used in the simulators. "Our job was to show what the pilot would see if he was looking out the cockpit #F window in a real plane."

With defense spending on the decline, Mr. Lenyo said, the company was looking for new markets to apply its technology and video games seemed to offer some potential.

At the same time Saga was looking to inject more lifelike images into it next generation of video games and it liked what it saw in Martin Marietta's three-dimensional, real time simulation technology.

The first product of the Martin Marietta and Sega joint effort was a game called "Daytona USA." It put the player in the driver's seat of a 750 horsepower race car roaring around the track at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour.

Since introducing the game in February, Mr. Lenyo said, Sega has received 20,000 orders for it.

A new game, one that has not yet hit the U.S. market, is called "Desert Tank," which will put the player at the controls of a tank coming under attack by other tanks, helicopters, fighter planes and an assortment of other threats.

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