Computer Simulation Industry Brings Local Jobs

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None — One industry is booming despite the bad economy and it's growing especially strong in Orange County. The industry is computer simulation and training. It does everything from train doctors to fly aircraft into war zones and it's bringing thousands of high-tech, high-wage jobs into Central Florida.

The eyes of the technology world are on UCF's Institute of Simulation and Training. The project gauges the stress level of soldiers and surgeons and teaches a robot how to help.

Grant Taylor is a PhD student in psychology with a hand in the technology that is similar to the basis for the sci-fi movie Avatar.

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"Yeah, my job is to play with video games and play with brains and get them to play nice together," Taylor said.

For instance, a robot they are working with is currently operated by a joystick, but ultimately it's going to be operated through mind power, and the applications are endless.

"Instead, you just think, ‘Walk forward,' and it happens," Taylor said.

Taylor is just a piece of a larger puzzle. The lab is also a mind game of sorts. One application assesses the level of a brain injury to help in rehab of soldiers and civilians.

"Of course, in the military, what impacts me moving forward impacts everyone around me, so it's a very critical issue," said Eileen Smith, UCF Simulation and Training.

There are dozens of other departments inside the institute and another building is set to open this fall. Five billion dollars a year pours into the part of UCF for the public, private and government simulation done on campus. The industry has been recession proof.

"One of the issues is people leaving before they finish, because they got a really great job offer," institute director Dr. Randall Shumaker said.

Those jobs usually pay $80,000 and up to start. That's a virtual reality that, in this job market, seems virtually impossible.

Most every student in the Simulation and Training department is also on scholarship and many receive a salary while attending school.

The Veterans Administration has signed on to partner with UCF for its medical simulation center at the new Medical City.