Flying is considered to be one of the safest modes of transportation with a mishap probability of 1 in 1.2 million. What makes flying so safe are airplanes with sophisticated technology coupled with highly skilled pilots who undergo rigorous training before they take their first flight. However, once in a while we do come across fatal aviation accidents that confound the aviation industry and horrify the world. Accidents lead to investigations to find the cause. It has been noted that in a high number of cases, pilot error was the culprit. Richard Collins, an American aviation author and journalist said that: pilots don't err on purpose; they err because they don't know better.
Almost all contemporary passenger airplanes have huge number of controls that come into play at various points during flight. Therefore, the pilot is confronted with a lot of information which he has to analyse and take quick and correct decisions accordingly; which he is trained to do. However, a minor mistake by him could catapult into a serious catastrophe. Augmented Reality comes into play here. With AR, the pilot can call for only that information to be displayed which he requires intuitively so that he can focus at other tasks at hand. In this way he is not bombarded with all information at the same time and he gets a helping hand at taking decisions.
One major application of AR in aviation has manifested itself in the form of a hardware equipment for pilots called 'Aero Glass'. This device can visualize terrain, navigation, air-traffic, instrument, weather, and airspace information in a 360-degree, 3D overlay that is easy to understand. These are wearable glasses, that look more like sunglasses, but they give you a 360 degree graphic overlay of information anywhere, on the terrain or in the sky. Instead of having the pilot, mentally combine information from a chart, airplane instruments and the scenery around, Aero Glass shows everything of importance in 3D.
Below is a video of the Aero Glass in action:
Features of Aero glass:
The chart has a map of the airport complete with labels for taxiways, runways, terminals, and gate nos. Electronic charts are much easier to read because they superimpose the plane’s position on the airfield to the airport map and that’s how pilots know where they are. But they still do need to know where to go. This information is given to the pilots by ground controllers called ATC (Air Traffic Control). The ATC usually communicates the following info to the pilot:
Runway [number], taxi via [route]. (USA.)
Taxi to holding point [number] runway [number] via [route]. (Europe and elsewhere)
Therefore, noting the ATC’s commands, the pilot draws his route either to the holding point before take-off or to the gate after landing. He then proceeds using the yellow taxiway and runway markings on the left or right edges of them. Typical airport navigation signs are depicted in the image below:
Better methods like the ‘Follow-me-car’ and ‘Follow-the-greens’ exist but there are fees usually associated with these.
The AR solution provided by Aero Glass is to overlay the ground with digital graphics that appear right in front of the pilot’s FOV when he looks straight along a way:
This feature has a major advantage and takes off the load from the pilot of having to look through maze-like charts and drawing out paths based on ATC commands and then looking for taxiway and runway markers that lead the plane to its desired location.
Issues and challenges:
The company has said that it is working towards making inside out tracking glasses.
Another major challenge that the creators faced was to co-ordinate the wearer's head movements and the motion of the plane in order to display precise overlays that perfectly mapped on to the objects they’re meant for. The company is well aware of the fact that high heading precision is crucial for a safe Mixed Reality overlay provided by Aero Glass. Heading imprecision of over 0.5-degree results in a misleading and hazardous mixed reality overlay. The video below shows a flight with 0.1° heading precision and another with a 1.3° precision, with the latter exhibiting a 110ft (33m) overlay offset from a distance of 0.86nm (1.6km). This is misleading the pilot and can be potentially dangerous.
Although Aero Glass faces issues and challenges, the company has identified these and are working to enhance their product. This device definitely has a great potential of revolutionising the aviation industry and making air travel even more safe.