The introduction of VR simulators has made training lighter on the pockets and safer to execute. It makes pilot training much more affordable, not to mention it is not prone to accidents like traditional pilot training. The technology has been around for a long time; it was mostly used for gaming.
We have all heard of the technology. What comes to mind when you hear Virtual Reality or VR? For the general masses, the VR headsets would be something that pops to their minds. Now the airlines and private jet charter companies have realized how much cheaper it is to train pilots this way. Many advantages of switching from traditional pilot training methods to VR simulators have been realized over the years, and this has resulted in the switch happening in not only commercial airline industries but also Air Force.
The biggest development or you can breakthrough that VR technology has had is the haptic system. It adds sensation to VR flight simulators, which mimics the reactions that would have in real life to the actions that the training pilots choose. The haptic system can transmit vibrations, motions, and sensations to the training pilots or users to recreate the sense of touch.
The military has started using VR technology as a means to refresh the skills of flight personnel with PTSD. Haptic has been the advancement that was needed, for the technology to be used for pilot training as well as treating flight personnel suffering from PTSD, by the Air Force to put VR simulators to use.
How the VR simulator with the haptic system works is that-
- Sensors are attached to the user’s hand, and these sensors are lightweight so that they do not interfere with natural hand and finger movements.
- These sensors look like blood-pressure sensors, and the actuators are put on the user’s fingertips.
- Each sensor has several actuators under a flexible rubber cover, and they can be controlled individually to adjust the range of pressure – from light touch to a more distinct contact.
- The headset doesn’t give you the attachment visibility.
- These actuators are then used to apply pressure to the fingertips which replicate textures of the objects, stiffness of an object, and the sensation of holding an object in your hand.
This means when VR simulators are used with haptic technology for pilot training, the pilot using it can feel motions of their seat and pressure of every switch and instrument adjustment when they are learning to fly in severe weather conditions and over difficult terrain. Once started, the technology works so well that our brain starts to play along by understanding, recognizing, and getting in tune with the physical contact as though it were real.
We know how it is being used by the defense forces. Let’s talk about it being used to train pilots. There has been an issue with there being a shortage of pilots, with the amount of training – the time and the money goes in the traditional training method it becomes more of a challenge to have an adequate supply to deal with the shortage. VR technology gives the industry a chance to train more pilots without having to spend a fortune.
Any major aviation and aerospace trade show will show the involvement of VR with VR headsets everywhere. I think one of the disadvantages of this is that the training pilots know that they are not really in the air, so any mistake or damage or crash can be rectified with a reset button and they will get to try again, unlike real life.
But, it looks like this disadvantage, will soon be countered with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center along with Systems Technology Inc.’s project named “Fused Reality.” It will be a head-mounted VR tool that will enable pilots to train for various situations while flying. One of the claims for it is that the ability to test different maneuvers while in the air will provide a more realistic experience or feel without actually endangering the pilot, unlike the danger in the traditional training method. The longer-term vision for this project is that every plane will have a built-in flight simulator capability.
The benefits of VR simulators do outweigh the traditional methods on paper when it comes to pilot training. Some people who oppose the idea believe that training on land doesn’t give a real experience which can then endanger the lives of many. This fear is based around incidents that provide the worry with a sufficient base. Organizations are working on technologies to make it as effective as they can, and I think that proves to us that VR simulators are definitely the future of pilot training.