Friday, March 16, 2012

Air Freight and Passenger Plane Pilots Will Get Electronic Eyes

NASA Research Reaps Yet More Safety Benefits
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – Everyone knows that the NASA space program has resulted in some fantastic scientific advances, so much so there is even a subscription website devoted to these ‘spin offs’. Even though such vital items as Teflon, WD40 and Velcro were in fact not products of NASA’s requirements (despite urban myths to the contrary) the organisation is now actively seeking investment in something which could revolutionise safety for passenger and air freight pilots and their respective cargoes.

NASA scientists have searched for almost two decades for ‘augmented reality’ solutions to the problems pilots face with visibility in a range of circumstances. Now the organisation has requested tenders from companies interested in obtaining license rights to commercialize, manufacture and market the fruits of their labour. NASA has released details of a system utilising a head worn display which revolutionises how an airfield appears to a pilot no matter how poor visibility. This ‘Synthetic Vision’ solution provides a voice controlled display of surroundings as if in sunlit conditions, thereby eliminating the limited visibility which the NASA Aviation Safety Program (AvSP) claim is the single greatest contributing factor in the most fatal worldwide airline and general aviation crashes.

The electronic picture the head sets attain are designed to cut the accident rate for aircraft by 80% in the first decade of use and NASA is keen to ensure the technology is readily available to all commercial aircraft. The head set provides a clear all round image which is capable of giving a pilot all the information he needs with no need to look around or down to consult his instruments.

Using GPS, exact terrain databases and perfect graphic displays the system also negates the need for traditional maps with all taxi ways, airport geography and current traffic information instantly available to view. As a pilot moves his head so the image swings in real time as if he could see clearly. A NASA statement says:

“Initial testing shows that this system provides significant safety and operational benefits during aircraft surface operations by enabling pilots to taxi alertly without having to look down at the cockpit screen.”

This latest request for commercial investment is for just a part of the technology including real time enhanced vision systems which Langley based AvSP has been working on for years. Details of the solicitation for the new head set system can be viewed HERE.

Photo: How a foggy airfield might look using the head set. Courtesy NASA.