When fog suddenly blankets an airport, it can make things difficult for pilots taxiing to and from the runway - especially if they're not familiar with its layout. To help solve this problem, NASA has developed a pair of augmented reality glasses for pilots to wear in low visibility conditions.
These days, depending on the location of the runway and the technology on board the aircraft, many commercial airliners are able to land in foggy conditions. Once on the ground, however, things can get tricky. Ground controllers can’t see the planes, while pilots have little or no visibility as they try to navigate their way to the gate. With this problem in mind, NASA has been working on producing a pair of augmented reality glasses which would allow pilots to see a virtual representation of the airstrip and taxiing routes.
The headset, which weighs less than a quarter of a pound (113g), incorporates a lens that fits over one eye, providing the pilot with a variety of information, as well as a virtual view of the surroundings. It’s even designed to track head movements, quickly providing an accurate and realistic virtual image for the pilot.
Trey Arthur, an electronics engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia where the glasses have been developed, said, “If pilots are not familiar with the airport, they have to stop and pull out maps. This display, in the new world where these routes are going to be digital, can tell them what taxiway they’re on, where they need to go, where they’re headed, and how well they’re tracking the runway’s center line.”
Similar heads-up display (HUD) technology is already used by pilots of some military aircraft, and while many of the latest commercial airliners have this kind of technology as part of the cockpit instruments, it has up to now lacked NASA’s head-tracking technology. In tests, pilots rated the headset higher than the cockpit technology which provided them with similar information.
The US space agency made the technology available for commercialization earlier this month, though Trey Arthur is still working to improve the headgear.