A new approach to firearm simulation training.

A common misconception is that since the most expensive simulators have multiple screens and video-based scenarios, they must represent the best solution.

Let’s talk about why that simply isn’t true anymore (if it ever was), and how new technology is improving the way we train.


Video is not a good medium for firearm training.

Virtually all legacy firearm training simulators rely on branching video technology developed more than 40 years ago. Since then, video-based simulators have changed very little. This video from 13 years ago looks virtually identical to systems being sold today and illustrates several problems inherent in video-based firearm training.

First, the trainee asks the following questions during the simulation.

  • Sir, are you alright?

  • Who else is here?

  • Ma’am, are you OK?

  • Where did they go?

  • Where are they at?

  • How many were there?

  • More than one?

Because the scenario is pre-recorded, characters are unable to respond to the trainee (its no different than yelling at the quarterback on your television to throw the ball). This lack of interactivity is one of the key problems with video.

Fifteen seconds into the scenario, the trainee shoots the first of two suspects. Before the suspect hits the ground, the trainee turns to his left because he knows where the next suspect will appear. Video scenarios never change, so once you complete a lesson there is little value in repeating it. The trainee in this example has run through this scenario before and “games” the system by preemptively turning to the spot of his next shot before the target appears. This is even more obvious when the scenario is run a second time.

An additional technical problem with video is that shots to characters are registered as kills or misses only. If the trainee hits the suspect, he will die. If he misses, the suspect will continue to fire until killed or the scenario is ended. The images may look real but they do not behave realistically.

In another example video, a trainee responds to a call concerning an aggressive dog. As you watch the video, think about these questions:

  • Do any of the characters (man, woman, children, or dog) interact with the officer?

  • Does the trainee appear to be engaged?

  • What are the benefits of five screens?

  • Would there be any repeat value in running through this scenario multiple times?

  • What is being taught? Could the lessons learned here be taught without spending $300,000?

Video-based simulators bill themselves as providing de-escalation training, but de-escalation is based on communication. Since the characters in a video scenario cannot hear or respond to what the trainee says, the value of pre-recorded video as a de-escalation tool is questionable at best.

Once the trainee decides to use force, video is even less valuable because it cannot account for non-fatal hits or near misses. Missing the suspect and hitting a civilian in the background would go unregistered in a video-based system.

Unlike video, interactive 3D graphics have made giant leaps in capability and realism over the past 40 years.

  • Because nothing is pre-recorded, events can unfold more naturally.

  • 3D graphics do not have the technical limitations of video.

  • Shot detection can happen at the pixel level, meaning that it is easy to determine the exact point of impact, even if the target is rapidly moving.

  • It’s much easier to create courses and drills using a 3D system than filming and editing video.

Multiple screens provide little or no added value.

While multiple screens may look impressive, any real benefit they might offer isn’t worth the added expense or increase in complexity. Multi-screen systems require large, semi-permanent training areas, and present a number of disadvantages.

  • Multiple screens add tens of thousands of dollars to the initial cost of a system and can cost thousands of dollars in annual maintenance.

  • Trainees are boxed in by screens and not free to move around.

  • Setup, tear down, calibration, and transportation are all more difficult.

And consider the impact of multiple screens on training throughput. For the cost of one 5-screen system, you could purchase eight DART MAX systems. That’s 800% more training time per officer each year. And because DART is portable, it can go virtually anywhere.

Firearm simulation systems do not need to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that simulators that cost $100,000-$300,000 must be significantly better than DART, which costs just a fraction of that.

When VCRs first came out they were clunky, expensive, and produced mediocre results. They were eventually replaced by smaller, less expensive units with more features and better quality. These were replaced by digital video, which was even better. It would be wrong to assume that a VCR from 1975 would produce better results than a digital recording today because it was larger and more expensive. In virtually all technology-driven industries; as technology improves, complexity and prices come down while quality increases.

That hasn’t been the case for firearm simulation training. When they were introduced 40 years ago, simulators were large, expensive, and based on pre-recorded movies. Today, not much has changed. They are still large, expensive, and based on the same outdated video technology. In short, a lack of innovation has kept prices high and the number of improvements low.

DART MAX represents a new approach to simulation training. Built on a foundation of modern technology and powered by fresh ideas, DART simulators are easy to use, reasonably priced, and offer advantages that far exceed those of legacy simulators.