European researchers are embarking on a project to improve the realism of flight simulators by studying how pilots perceive motion during critical situations. Their focus will be on discovering how the brain combines motion and visual information, so we can more precisely recreate dangerous maneuvers, to make pilots become better and safer.
One of the problems the interdisciplinary research team seeks to resolve is the lack of an appropriate algorithm to optimize the motion within the limited workspace of any simulator for such extreme conditions. Within the framework of the three-year SUPRA project (Simulation of Upset Recovery in Aviation), their goal is to improve the simulation of such complex flight manoeuvres and to develop a new generation of flight simulators.
At first, relevant training scenarios must be chosen for the experiments. This will be done in close cooperation with professional test pilots, who have already acquired much experience with such extreme conditions. The scientists, under the direction of Heinrich H. Bülthoff at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, hope to discover how pilots perceive aircraft motion during the extreme situations and why they can become spatially disoriented. They are particularly interested in the interaction of vision and signals the brain receives from the balance organs in the inner ear. With the help of a robotic arm, test persons will be exposed to a variety of accelerations, while simultaneously viewing a computer-generated virtual environment. By using the appropriate stimulation of both the visual and balance systems, it is possible to "trick" the brain in such a way that the pilot perceives an actual flight manoeuvre, rather than the laboratory. For example, the scientists are able to give an impression of acceleration with purely visual stimulation, although not actually providing real motion. This perception can be enhanced by providing a suitable actual motion. This type of illusion of motion is used in flight simulators to produce a perception of motion that would not otherwise be possible due to the limited workspace.
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