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NASA Helps Clearing The Fog 65

Roland Piquepaille writes "NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program wants to cut fatal accident rates by 80 percent over the next ten years. To reach this goal, NASA researchers used "tunnel-in-the-sky" synthetic vision systems (SVS) in recent flights on a Gulfstream V over Reno, Nevada. A guest pilot for Aviation Week & Space Technology (AWST) went onboard and writes that 'NASA Team Brings Synthetic Vision to Maturity.' He was able to see that SVS concepts, such as voice-controlled synthetic vision displays, a runway incursion protection system, database integrity monitoring technology, and enhanced vision sensors meshed with SVS images, were really effective in eliminating low-visibility-induced accidents. However, NASA doesn't say anything about the availability of SVS for commercial airlines. This summary contains more details and illustrations about key SVS concepts."
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NASA Helps Clearing The Fog

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2004 @04:39PM (#10034016)

    "What I really need is a pair of spectacles to see through the fog. . . ."--Charles A. Lindbergh.

    Almost eight decades and a host of hard-won technological advances later, NASA's Langley Research Center and its government, industry and university partners are delivering the equivalent of Lindbergh's fog-penetrating spectacles.

    Recent flights here on a Gulfstream V (GV) testbed demonstrated that NASA's consortium of researchers has brought "tunnel-in-the-sky" synthetic vision systems (SVS) to an impressive level of functionality. Tweaking of some features is still warranted, and a suite of enhanced-vision sensors (EVS) is yet to be fully incorporated, but a transition from research to commercial products is clearly in the offing.

    The research and demo flights at Reno/Tahoe International Airport last month marked the latest phase of NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program, which aims to cut fatal accident rates by 80% over 10 years. In 2001, similar evaluation flights on a NASA-Langley Boeing 757 were flown at Eagle County Regional Airport near Vail, Colo. Those highlighted individual elements of SVS, and garnered valuable inputs from NASA, airline, FAA and Boeing pilots (AW&ST Oct. 29, 2001, p. 78).

    This summer's Reno deployment focused on integrating several SVS elements to give pilots not only excellent airborne situational awareness, but also runway incursion protection on the ground, and a means of ensuring computer-generated displays are accurate depictions of the environment. I was one of several guest pilots given the opportunity to fly in the GV's left seat and see a number of NASA and Rockwell Collins SVS concepts. Specifically, new integrated concepts included:

    * Synthetic vision displays.

    * A runway incursion protection system (Rips).

    * Enhanced-vision sensors, such as forward-looking infrared (Flir) and advanced weather radar systems, mated with SVS images.

    * Database integrity monitoring equipment.

    By most pilots' accounts, NASA's team has done an excellent job of meeting the goal of its Synthetic Vision Systems Project: finding ways to eliminate low-visibility-induced accidents. Specifically, the project sought to develop technologies and procedures to avoid CFIT--controlled flight into terrain--during poor weather and at night.

    Researchers aimed to "make every flight the equivalent of clear-day operations--what we call 'virtual VMC' [visual meteorological conditions]," said Daniel G. Baize, NASA-Langley's SVS project manager. "SVS is another layer of protection on top of enhanced ground proximity [warning systems]--a great tool in itself--but synthetic vision will give a more intuitive and more advanced warning of a potential terrain [encounter]."

    Although definitions vary, NASA's team decided "enhanced vision" refers to sensor-based means of giving pilots information about terrain and man-made features when visibility is obscured. "Synthetic vision" is an artificial, computer-generated view based on a detailed terrain database. Combining the two can either be done via "fusion"--creating one image by melding sensor and database elements--or "integration," which overlays sensor and terrain data.

    The latter "provides the flight crew with a synthetic view of the environment, regardless of the weather or time of day," Baize says. "We always start with the database, which includes terrain [and] obstacles. Then we position you within that database to the highest degree of accuracy possible . . . using a differential GPS system [at Reno]. We then confirm your position in the database with a variety of sensors."

    During the Reno demonstration-flight phase, the GV's standard Kollsman Inc. "All-Weather Window" infrared-based system provided thermal imagery to both head-up and head-down displays, when selected. A recipient of Frost & Sullivan's 2004 Technology Innovation Award, the Kollsman EVS operates in the 1-5-micron region, which allows b
  • by Roland Piquepaille ( 780675 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @04:41PM (#10034023)
    as in more visual. Most ground-based beacons and VORs and the like can provide "tunnels" to airplanes, and autopilots can bridge the gap in between places with beacons, but until now it was rather conceptual. That new technology allows pilots to visualize directly the virtual route.

    Commercial airplanes could benefit from this today, which is what's great.
    • by TurretMaster ( 779398 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @05:14PM (#10034201)
      As I get it, the point is not that the position information is more accurate,as it still comes from the same mix of radio beacons, inertial navigation systems an GPS datas. It is just that the data is more readable for the pilot.

      Yet i'm not sure it's more useful: Commercial airliners are _all_ equiped with "Flight directors", with seems to be the best info a pilot could get. It is displayed as two bars on the artificial horizon, and tells the pilot which way he should move the commands to follow in the best possible way the planned route, heading, vertical speed, ILS, speed, whatever the pilot chose to follow.

      It uses derivates to the second degree of the raw position data to compute intercept path and anticipations, and following it is a breeze : just keep the cross centered, and you'll get a smooth, perfect trajectory. Cross up, you pull until it's centered. Cross left, bank left until centered. No brain required.

      I'm not sure fancy graphics would be quite as reliable or useful: have you ever tried following a tunnel thing in some flight simulator ? It's much harder than stupidly keeping a cross centered, especially after a long trancoceanic flight ;-)
  • by Beatlebum ( 213957 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @04:52PM (#10034086)
    The ILS (instrument landing system) allows very low visibility (zero-zero) approaches using a glidesope indicator for height and localizer for direction, however, often flights are cancelled because fog prevents safe manouvering on the ground. What is really needed is a way to see static and moving objects through the fog. The visualization technology is cute and would be especially useful for training.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 21, 2004 @05:03PM (#10034141)
      It depends on the aircraft. Certain aircraft, like the 747-400, are certified for zero-zero (visibility and ceiling) flight. More commonly, however, is a minimum visibility requirement (50-50 IIRC).

      When I was working for a regional airline out of Midway in Chicago, the pilots used a gentleman's club called "The Lusty Lady" near the end of the runway to make their "go no-go" decision. If they could see it on approach, they had good enough visibility, otherwise they had to go around and/or fly to another destination.
      • It's a bit more complicated than that, usually: you need a minimum "Runway visual range (RVR)" to just begin the approach.

        It varies between 75m and several kilometers dependind on the type of approach (ILS ? NDB ?), the class of aicraft and airfield equipment (Cat I/II/II), and of course crew qualification. A pilot in a 777 will need the same RVR as in a Cessna, if he is not Cat III qualified.

        Once you've begun the approach, you can descend to the procedure's "Minimum height of descent" (MDH) or "Decision
    • Actually, the NASA Aviation Safety and Security Program [nasa.gov] at NASA Langley (which is a part of this project, I believe) is doing just that.
  • by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @04:57PM (#10034116)
    from the article:

    A runway incursion protection system (Rips).

    Guess they really had to add "system". Too bad, this screwed up an interesting acronym.

  • 80% ? I doubt it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jesrad ( 716567 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @04:59PM (#10034121) Journal
    It's been three decades since the average number of incident per million movement has stagnated, how do this project's managers think they'll be effective where nothing was in all this time ?

    Adding information to the pilot's input is probably not a good idea. Risk management experts such as René Amalberti have explained in great length that sensory overload exhausts cognitive resources, leaving little for actual piloting. The only few occasions where some new information technology would probably prove useful are situations where lack of information leads to a dangerous difference between what the pilot THINKS is happening, and what is REALLY happening. These sorts of difference is what leads to catastrophe (Sharm el Cheik being only one). I think there are a number of occasions where the SVS would help, but how many new loopholes, how many false assumptions ("The system does not show THAT so the situation is safe") will it introduce ?

    I'll keep my doubt until I see the system's limitations.
    • While I agree that the 80% figure is a little out there (maybe they mean 80% of low-visibility crashes?), I disagree that they're adding information to the pilot's input. It sounds more to me like they're preventing the pilot from losing information he already had when it gets foggy - virtually everything in the article sounds like it's intended to be meshed into a full HUD that would basically let the pilot see a virtual groundscape.

      The devil, of course, will be in making it as easy and natural as regula
      • Re:80% ? I doubt it. (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The devil, of course, will be in making it as easy and natural as regular vision, so the pilot is not distracted by the artificially enhanced nature of it.

        Uh-huh. As an instrument pilot, I know full well just how much good "regular vision" does you. There are all sorts of fun ways that your brain interprets visual information improperly on days where visibility is unlimited.

        The real question isn't how it compares to natural vision, it's how much data it puts right in front of the pilot. There's a
    • the whole point of this system is to remedy sensory underload. when you've got good visibility, if the synthetic displays get in the way, you just turn them off.
    • I doubt the 80%, but it would help quite a bit. Currently, weather related accidents account for only 2.6% of accidents in General Aviation according to the AOPA's Air Safety Foundation's Nall report from last year ( http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/03nall.pdf [aopa.org]). This may not seem like much until one realizes that these accidents comprise 12.6% of all FATAL accidents. The vast majority of these accidents are not people flying purposely in IMC, but VFR only pilots flying into weather.

      Although all pil
  • Same tech on autos? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Daniel ( 807289 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @05:03PM (#10034146) Homepage
    Wonder when we'll get to see this same technology on production automobiles. I remember hearing about multiple-car pileups in larger cities due only to foggy or otherwise low-visibility conditions. Think of the number of lives this could save.
    • I think it only works in the presence of a controlling system that knows the location of every object you're interested in. This certainly ain't the case for roads, so probably it'll be a while.
  • Plane Crash Info (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Serious Simon ( 701084 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @05:04PM (#10034149)
    An interesting source of information about plane crashes is planecrashinfo [planecrashinfo.com].

    From the statistics on this web site it becomes clear that low-visibility landings account for far less than 80% of the crashes. So other measures are necessary as well if plane crashes are to be reduced by that factor.

  • A lot of accidents could be avoided if private pilots were encouraged more to acquire instrument ratings

    Can't speak for the FAA, but here in the UK our equivalent, the CAA; does little to encourage private pilots to take up instrument training. It could be argued that the requirements are even obstructive, much of the training is overly complex, unnecessary and much will only ever apply to airline pilots. This of course adds to the cost, and flying is expensive over here as it is.

    GA pilots here frequentl
  • by vmaxxxed ( 734128 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @05:58PM (#10034396)

    How expesive is it going to be ??????

    HSI's are expensive enough that not every one has them...!!!

    80%.... I dont think so.
    More over, this is so unrealistic, that it really makes me think this is being done by scientists with 0 flight hours, not pilots.

    I love flying, and I think the situation is so sad.

    The FAA presumes every year of declining accident rates, yes, sure, what they dont tell you is that their pretty charts dont show the also declining number of total pilots every year.

    I can see it, by 2020, new mandatory equipment for all IFR flight!!! Great 100 less accidents on its first year....... beacuse 100 less pilots who could nor afford it....

    We dont need new fancy computer equipment, we need
    to make more efficient what we already have.
    We need for airplanes, what Robinson just did for helicopters
    Instead of adding fancy equipement NASA should invest
    in making current equipment more efficient and cheap!
    Most GA airplanes are over 20 years old!!!
    The radios are around 5-15 years old on average in a GA airplane, the VOR navigation dates from the second world war!.......

    We dont need to add toys to this, we need to fix what we already have.

    • It is pretty clear that most of the people pontificating on this thread log their time in the cabin. That's why I'm replying to you -- you at least understand what we're talking about.

      The Synthetic Vision that NASA has been working on is already available for both the experimental and certified market from Chelton (formerly Sierra) Flight Systems. http://www.sierraflightsystems.com/default.htm [sierraflightsystems.com]

      When it was being developed, it was only $10k for the single display. (It's more now, especially for the certifi

      • You have a point there.

        At least price-wise, I can see that, after adding up what you pay for all the normal instruments in a regular GA airplane, probably its about the same.

        But, at the same time you hit on one problem.

        If the vacuum quits, you know you have the turn coordinator, a completely separate piece of equipment, with a completely different power source.

        And, if you need to replace it, you only replace that part, not the whole panel!

        I have seen LCD's die on me. What will you do
        • Re: But, last year there were ZERO deaths in US ariline flights.

          If General Aviation operated under 14 CFR Part 121 (or even 135) they would have an equivalent level of safety. But it would be cost-prohibitive! The fact is that you are in an unnatural environment for the human organism anytime you are high enough (~10m) or fast enough (~50 kmh) to kill you. As the old pilot's saying goes, it is "unforgiving of any mistake."

          All the light GA craft with PFD/MFD technology have backup instruments. For an exa

  • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Saturday August 21, 2004 @06:04PM (#10034423)
    ... I'm surprised no one has noted the acronym for Tunnel In The Sky.

    I'm so immature (though probably older than 95% of Slashdot posters). :-)

    - S
  • Okay, it's not quite the same thing as described in TFA, but...

    About 10 years back I did some (non-sensitive) work on a test platform for the Tiger [wikipedia.org] helicopter project. One of the experimental bits was an AR (augmented reality) feature; a laser scanner in the nose detected power lines up ahead and traced over them in REALLY BRIGHT COLOURS on the helmet visor.

    You can see how something like that could be a lifesaver. Those things flew very low, and pretty fast. Not sure whether the feature made it into the

  • Ever been flying a plane at night with lots of nifty glass-cockpit crap in it, little moving-map displays with color weather radar overlays that show your airplane inching around the nasty thunderstorm and then rejoining your route at the cost of 43.657 seconds? Ever feel like the master of your universe as you transit a Class B cluster of megaports while eyeballing the informational overlay showing fuel flow, range, GS, TC and the like, as ATC soothes you with occasional handoffs and the odd heading change
  • why do we have to ahve these posts to this blog that just reposts other stories?? its useless - all we need are links to the original stories for christ's sake!
  • Kickbacks! (Score:2, Funny)

    by toxic666 ( 529648 )
    http://slashdot.org/search.pl?tid=&query=roland+p i que&author=&sort=1&op=stories [slashdot.org]

    79 stories posted (with obligatory, self-promoting links) this year. That's about one every three days. What does this blog offer besides copy and paste links to the original articles? Advertising!

    This is pathetic, and it's obvious there is some kind of monetary link between Roll 'Em and the /. editors.

    Way back in 1999, this was funny. Now, it's just sadly true:

    http://humorix.org/articles/1999/02/sla [humorix.org]

    • Re:Kickbacks! (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Mr2cents ( 323101 )
      Call 1-877-SLSH-DOT toll-free now!

      Well? What are you all waiting for over there in the US? Let's slashdot him in the good old POTS way! That line might not be troll-free the next coming weeks :) (if the number still exists).
  • I've jumped in with this some time ago in response to an earlier Slashdot HUD-in-the-motorcycle-helmet article, but I'll say this again:

    It has been shown that this task is a divided attention one (obviously). Hence, when a "highway in the sky" or runway overlay is added, this tends to draw attention to it - and away, in the study (Ames Lab, I think it was) from the sample Cessna that pulled out in front of the sim during landing.

    Pilots on the sim landed "through" the small plane without reporting seein

  • I haven't RTFA (I'm not too interested), but I did see there was VOICE CONTROLLED vision, blah blah blah. Are they insane? I wouldn't want anything to be voice controlled in a plane. What if the pilot starts getting a cold? Something causes his voice to change. I don't see why anything needs to be voice controlled anyway, especially something that helps the pilot see!
  • Robert A. Heinlein's book [allscifi.com].

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.