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U Students Design Simulator to Train Police on De-escalating Conflict

Andrea Smardon
University of Utah engineering graduate student Nidal Ilyas demonstrates B.E.S.T., a police training simulator.

University of Utah students from the Entertainment Arts & Engineering video game program will be graduating in less than two weeks, and many of them are hoping to take their games to the market. Among the projects is a simulator designed to teach police officers how to de-escalate a tense encounter.

Engineering master’s student Ahmad Alsaleem says police shootings here in Utah and the national debate around the issue motivated his group to try something new.

“We googled that problem and we saw all the news around it, and we tried to go with a solution to this problem, and we were super surprised that nobody did this before,” Alsaleem says. “Nobody focused a trained policeman on how to de-escalate things using simulations. They’re all about how good you are about using your gun.”

Fellow engineering student Nidal Ilyas is running a simulation on his computer. In this scenario, the police officer has received a call from a woman that her father is off his medication. The officer finds him in the garage.

“He seems a bit agitated, and he’s doing his work, so I go ahead and talk to him,” Ilyas says. “I ask him, hey, could you please stand up?”

“Whoa, whoa, what are you doing here? I’m just trying to get this working,” the animated figure says. “What’s this about?”

The simulator responds to the tone in Ilyas’s voice, as well as his hand gestures and postures. The students have consulted with officials from Peace Officer Standards and Training as well as the state Attorney General’s office in designing a simulation that is true to life.

“If you get too close to him, his anger is increasing, which means that you have to back off a bit,” Ilyas says. “You have to keep on talking to him in a very calm manner so that his anger slowly decreases.”

The project has already received seed money, and is the national winner of the Microsoft Imagine Cup. The six students who’ve been working on it say they plan to turn it into a business, and they’re hoping that police academies in Utah and across the country start using it as part of their curriculum.

Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) projects will be on display Wednesday, April 27, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the group’s new studio in the university’s former law library, 332 S. 1400 East, second floor. The event is free and open to the public.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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