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The digital Staff Sgt. Ty Carter talks post-traumatic stress

Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter sits in a special set at USC’s Institute for Create Technologies as 6,000 LEDs and 10 cameras capture every detail of his digital image last year.

“Could you tell me what post-traumatic stress is?” asked the headset-wearing moderator to the soldier on the screen.

“Post-traumatic stress is your body and mind’s instinctive natural reaction to survive,” answered Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient last year.

As the moderator continued her line of questioning, Carter used his hands to pace his speaking and even broke eye contact at times when he needed a moment to concentrate.

Although the simulated conversation topic was as real as it gets, this wasn’t the flesh and bone Carter talking — it was his interactive, digital self, captured on a special green-screen set using 6,000 LEDs and 10 cameras by researchers at the University of Southern California.

The capturing process looked like the latest in computer-generated imagery, or CGI, used in movies or games. Only instead of dunking a basketball or battling aliens in space, the avatar was sitting on a white sofa, talking about how he copes with stress from his downrange experiences.

And that is the whole point of the collaborative research being done by USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and the U.S. Army Research Lab: get the Medal of Honor recipient talking about post-traumatic stress with as many people who can benefit from hearing his message as possible.

“We want to help spread his message,” said Randall Hill Jr., ICT executive director, in an official release. “Our aim is to further our computer graphics and natural language research, and development efforts to create a virtual Staff Sgt. Carter that could ideally be used to help more people benefit from his story than only those who might be able to meet him in person.”

According to ICT and the Army Research Lab, this means a future veteran suffering from PTSD could potentially interact with a 3-D hologram of Carter when seeking treatment.

“Just talking to a virtual human and getting information and resources might be an excellent first step for someone who is having an issue,” said Carter in a release from one of his visits to USC last year.

After receiving his Medal of Honor from President Obama at the White House last August, Carter announced his goal to remove from the military the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.

Said Obama of Carter during his Medal of Honor ceremony: “Look at this soldier. Look at this warrior. He’s as tough as they come, and if he can find the courage and the strength to not only seek help but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you.”

Obama went on to say Carter is “what a true American hero looks like.”

In the not-so-distant future, the hero’s looks may not be as real they seem.

suzuki.toshio@stripes.com
Twitter: @ToshJohn

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