Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Aviation
Today, VR is just barely beginning to achieve mainstream availability and acceptance, and the aviation industry is one of the adoption leaders as usual. Virtual reality, along with related technologies mixed reality and augmented reality, are now used in both the commercial and military aviation sectors. It is changing the way the industry operates from training to navigation, and even in-flight entertainment. Here are a few of the most interesting applications.
Virtual Reality Flight Training
The most obvious application of VR to the aviation industry is in training. Flight simulators have been around for years, and are even popular for home use. In the professional space, firms like Boeing have created what are essentially real airplane cockpits, stripped from their vehicles and the windows replaced with movie screens. Although effective as a training tool, these simulators are expensive and bulky.
Today, several companies are leveraging VR technology to bring simulators into the modern age. Most notable is Bohemia Interactive Simulations, which has been a luminary in both the home and professional flight simulation markets for years. Pairing Oculus Rift head-mounted displays and Leap Motion controllers with D-BOX motion seats and a proprietary landscape rendering engine, the new BIS simulator allows for a stunning virtual experience that accurately mimics every aspect of flight, from the controls to the vistas, and even the rumble of the engine and shaking turbulence.
One organization is employing VR to assist in training not just pilots, but flight attendants and ground crew, as well. VR development firm Future Visual participated in an International Air Transport Association (IATA) symposium. Future Visual demonstrated a concept for training airline personnel in performing an external aircraft inspection. Using an Oculus Rift head-mounted display, participants could go through the entire pre-flight process of walking around a plane, checking it for malfunctions or problems, and then locating safety equipment inside.
Aero Glass Augmented Reality Pilot Assistance
Southern California technology firm Aero Glass is currently testing a very exciting application of augmented reality. Using a lightweight AR head-mounted display from Epson, Osterhout Design Group, or others, Aero Glass overlays flight path and instrument data over a pilot’s vision. Pilots can access data without taking their eyes off the skies, and without spending valuable time struggling with physical controls or a touch interface.
One of the most exciting byproducts of the mainstreaming of VR and AR is the potential for consumer-level iterations of military technologies. Aero Glass is an excellent example. The product leverages the concepts of the head-mounted displays already in use by fighter pilots, and brings them to the private and commercial pilot market. Although the military has enjoyed the use of these displays for years, the upfront and ongoing maintenance costs of the dedicated hardware put them out of reach of ordinary citizens. The Aero Glass, on the other hand, is well within reach of any small airline or private plane owner. It’s not hard to imagine other applications of the technology, as well. Car and truck drivers, bicyclists, or even hikers and runners could all benefit from the natural integration of navigation data into the real world.