Magazine article National Defense

Taking 'Heads-Up' Displays to the Next Level

Magazine article National Defense

Taking 'Heads-Up' Displays to the Next Level

Article excerpt

* Inside modern aircraft cockpits, computers project navigational information onto a translucent screen that sits in front of the windshield. This digital "heads-up" display is meant to help pilots fly without having to look down at the instrument panel. But it limits the pilot's movements and his field of view because he must gaze directly through the screen to look at the readouts.

Scientists are developing technologies to give aviators better in-flight information on wearable displays that untether them from those stationary screens. Just as forthcoming F-35 fighter pilots will see avionics information projected onto their helmet displays, commercial airline pilots in the future may simply look through their sunglasses to see traffic and weather information superimposed over lenses.

Head-worn displays are part of the ongoing effort to modernize the air transportation system, which currently is based on radar and radio technologies. The next generation system will switch to satellite and computer-based technologies to help aircraft fly to their destinations via safer and more direct routes. Not only will that save time and money, but transportation officials also hope that the automation will ease airport congestion by guiding pilots to their runways and gates with little to no human interference.

To help attain that vision, some companies are developing see-through monocle displays that swing into position in front of the eye. Such systems aim to liberate pilots from heads-up displays by giving them the freedom to move their heads without losing sight of the digital data overlays.

Tracking technologies are needed to help synchronize the pilot's movements with the information that is projected onto his head-worn display.

"You don't want symbology to be swimming or lagging behind as the pilot moves his head left or right," says Mike Don-francesco, vice president of sales at InterSense Inc. The Massachusetts-based firm is one of several companies that produce trackers for use in the defense, medical and entertainment industries. Until recently, few had tackled the challenge of adapting the technology for commercial aviation use.

Traditional tracking systems involve a series of cameras and sensors placed around the object being monitored. But because that "outside-in" model translates into expensive hardware and space-consuming infrastructure, InterSense has pursued an "inside-out" approach that places the tracker on the object itself. …

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