Simulating the Deadliest Warrior

DN Staff

October 11, 2010

9 Min Read
Simulating the Deadliest Warrior

Soldiers have long captured the imagination of both historybuffs and combat enthusiasts, who've been known to spend hours building a casefor how one century's storied warrior could trump another in the ultimateshowdown.

Spike TV's "TheDeadliest Warrior" cable television show has earned a huge following justby putting those time-tested battle scenarios to the test. Whether it's a Mingwarrior versus a musketeer, an Apache pitted against a Gladiator, or amodern-day Navy Seal matched up against an Israeli Commando, "The DeadliestWarrior" aims to cut through the hype and conjecture, wielding proven scienceand state-of-the-art computer and simulation technology - albeit, with asmattering of entertaining reenactments - to help prove a winner.

Along with the latest in CGI technology, the show enlistswarrior-specific experts and world-class fighters who provide insight into whatmakes these infamous combatants tick while analyzing every facet of theirbattle skills. The culmination is a head-to-head battle that purports to revealthe deadliest warrior, which last season showcased showdowns between such iconsas Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, the Jesse James Gang, the Al Caponegang, the Roman Centurion, Somali Pirates and a couple of super spyorganizations - the KGB and CIA.

The show has been a surprise hit for the

MTV-owned network,which targets 18- to 45-year old males. Just renewed for a third season, "TheDeadliest Warrior" was the first franchise hit for the Spike network,commanding an audience of more than 1.6 million viewers per episode andgenerating more than 16.6 million video views of show-related videos on the Webfor the course of the season. While the blood, gore and epic battles haveappeal for the core Spike audience, the show has struck a nerve with a muchbroader base of viewers in part because of the rich history it explores andmore significantly, because the findings are rooted in technology-fueledanalysis.

"It's the age-old adage ... one test is worth a 1,000 expertopinions," says Geoff Desmoulin, the host and engineering whiz behind "TheDeadliest Warrior," who works as a biomedical engineer in his day job at Optima Health Solutions International.The history on the show informs the viewers, but also brings them closer to thewarriors, getting inside their heads and helping viewers choose a side,Desmoulin adds. Still, it's the tests, especially the frequent surprises thatare often the primary draw. "While these weapons are designed to kill, ourtests reveal that the killing potential depends highly on the operator behindthe weapon (high skill/low skill), what the target is (hard/soft), and whattype of rounds (hollow, jacketed, type of core, armor piercing, caliber, etc.)are used - all different outcomes depending on how these parameters aretweaked," he explains. "Our show provides a gritty, but more scientific lookinto the results of the use of these weapons without the Hollywood effects."

Technology's Leading Role

That said, even Desmoulin admits there's a bit of Hollywoodin The Deadliest Warrior's testing practices. The starring role in the testingprocess has to go to the lethal weaponry and lifelike dummies filled withballistic gel to mimic the density and viscosity of human flesh. Often, thereis blood, albeit manmade, and even animal carcasses on set to prove thephysical damage a particular weapon can impart. Yet traditional technologiesand engineering tools, including sensors, load cells, accelerometers andspeedometers play a critical supporting role as do NationalInstruments' LabVIEW graphicalprogramming environment for measurement and control hardware along with its CompactDAQ data acquisitionplatform. National Instrument's DIAdemdata management software is also used for visualization and analysis of thetest data, and last, but certainly not least, is a proprietary simulationprogram that churns through thousands of battle scenarios to zero in on theoutcome. The simulation software, based on a combat video game created bySlitherine Software, is harnessed by "The Deadliest Warrior" team to simulatethe actual warrior battles and draw the final conclusions.

Once the match-up for a show is selected, the team zeros inon four weapons that would most accurately reflect those particular warriors.The goal is to choose a short-range weapon, a medium-range weapon, a long-rangeweapon and special weapon - for example, a scalping knife in the case of anApache warrior. The show's panel of experts helps determine what weapons areused and how they are employed in combat. Based on their input and Desmoulin'sengineering expertise, the team zeros in on the types of testing that willgenerate the most realistic and accurate data, all of which will be dumped intothe combat engine to feed the battle simulation. "My role is to get data thatdescribes something about the weapon that we can use in the simulator - it maybe strictly a kill or no kill separation or as fine as ... a tension test on a spine," Desmoulinexplains. "I'm trying to develop numbers and measurements around the weapons tohelp determine the damage."

The team has only three days to create and film eachepisode, and the goal is to run four tests a day. The extremely tightproduction schedule presents the greatest challenge to developing andadministering tests, not to mention, generating accurate and reliable testdata, Desmoulin says. Given the time constraints and the need to have a testand measurement platform that is flexible and easily configurable, CompactDAQand LabVIEW were a natural fit, according to Caroline Tipton, data managementproduct manager at National Instruments, who is part of the NI teamcollaborating with "The Deadliest Warrior."

Under Desmoulin's direction, the team typically runs anumber of different tests in a short amount of time, often using different andfrequently donated sensors. Because CompactDAQ is a modular, USB dataacquisition system, it can be easily be connected to a load cell or anaccelerometer and changed out without any major reconfiguration. "The numberone challenge is time," Desmoulin says. "Setting up for a test, collecting thedata and tearing it down and setting up for the next test is an enormous task,especially if there is an awkward test to do. With CompactDAQ, we can set updifferent configurations with different modules and it's plug and play."

The LabVIEW graphical programming environment also lendsitself to this constant reconfiguration. Instead of having to view andinterpret test results from different instruments in separate softwareenvironments, Desmoulin's team can use one package to compare all the data."Previously, whoever provided the accelerometer or load sensor would have theirown packages, and it was difficult to compare and bring (the data) together,"Tipton explains. "With this, they can grab all the measurements in one shot andhave them in LabVIEW to compare."

While there isn't a regular testing regime for every battle,there are a few dependable standbys. For example, load cells are frequentlyemployed to determine impact force of weapons to gauge whether they will breakbone. Accelerometers have myriad uses, including strapping them to a fist todetermine punch speed as part of hand-to-hand combat or placing them in themiddle of a heavy bag to determine punch force. Orientation sensors are alsoregularly tapped to provide 3-D visibility for evaluating speed and impactvelocity of bladed weapons or projectile weapons like sling shots or bows andarrows.

CompactDAQ integrates all of the data from the test resultsinto LabVIEW, where Desmoulin and crew perform analysis and leverage thegraphical programming environment along with DIAdem to visualize key points topresent to the audience. "With LabVIEW, you have the option of looking at datawith an engineering interface or you can have a nice graphical user interfacefor people (in the audience) who aren't so familiar with the squiggly lines Ilook at," Desmoulin explains. "Why show the audience all of the informationwhen all they need to know is whether a bone is broken or not. With the help ofNI, we created a few (visualizations) that once the squiggly line reaches acertain threshold, it shows a picture on the screen of a broken bone and it'san interpretation that's immediate to understand."

Once the test data is collected and properly analyzed, it isfed into the simulation program, which churns through approximately 1,000battle scenarios, making a determination as to which warrior dominated andwhich weapon delivered the killing blow.

What's next for Season 3?

As "The Deadliest Warrior" heads into its third season,there are some changes planned, including those associated with the weaponstesting. Desmoulin says he will become much more involved in planning thetests, designing them "to be more comprehensive, with more science in mind."Leveraging things as simple as a pendulum can provide far more detail, in termsof figuring out how two warriors' weapons - for example, a Samurai sword and aSpartan shield - might meet and cause impact in the air. "The producers wouldn'tcome up with a test like that - it's not at all visual for them," he says.

Desmoulin is a natural fit to spearhead this kind of morecomprehensive testing. In addition to his biomedical engineering expertise anda specialty in blast-induced neurotrauma, Desmoulin has a military backgroundand is a black belt in karate. Joining him on the 10-episode third season, setto air in the summer of 2011, will be former Navy Seal Richard "Mack"Machowicz, the former host and producer of "Future Weapons." His role will beto enhance viewers' understanding of the soldiers behind the weapons and toprovide insight into the military strategies of the featured warriors. Dr.Armand Dorian will also return for season three, serving as the medical expertwho analyzes the lethal potential of each attack on the human body anddiscusses what treatments were available at the time to administer to thewounds.

This well-rounded panel of experts, coupled with theon-going focus on technology to advance the testing and continuously improvethe data that drives the battle simulation, will go a long way in fine-tuningthe accuracy of the show's predictions. "Having seven expert opinions plus thedata to back it all up gets you as close to making an accurate predication asdoing a full-bore study," Desmoulin says. "It's the mix of the right amount ofscience and entertainment that makes ("The Deadliest Warrior") perfect for a TVshow."

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