A simulated flight environment for pilot training may soon be made more realistic through the use of eye-tracking technology developed by researchers at the University of Toronto's Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IMBE). Many safety and cost benefits are obtained by training aircraft pilots under simulated conditions, but to be effective the simulation must be convicingly realistic.
At present, the training facilities use large domes and gimballed projectors, or an array of video screens, to display computer-generated images. But these installations are very expensive and image resolution is low. Further, it would take an enormous amount of addi to improve image quality significantly throughout the whole viewed scene. However, based on the visual properties of the eye,realism can be obtained by providing a high-resolution 'area of interest' insert within a large, low-resolution field of view. If the image-generating computer 'knows' where the pilot's fixation is, it mage there. The technology to make this possible was developed by a research team headed by Professor Richard Frecker and Professor Moshe Eizenman.
The work was carried out in collaboration with CAE Electronics Ltd. of Montreal with financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Their eye-tracker can record and analyze accurately up to 500 eye positions per second. The system works by means of capturing and processing the reflections of a low-level beam of invisible infra-red light shone onto the eye. Multi-element arrays capture the image of the eye and digitize the information, which is then processed in real time by a fast, dedicated signal processing unit. The difference in position between the ligh tre of the pupil reveals the instantaneous direction of gaze. Developments by the IBME team have significantly increased the speed of signal processing in addition to enhancing accuracy of eye position estimates. Eizenman believes that "these improvements make our eye-tracker very effective in monitoring the large G-force environment where the pilot tends to make larger eye movements because of contraints which exist on movements of his head".
In a new generation of aircraft simulators, under development by CAE Electronics Ltd. of Montreal, a head tracker which tells the direction of the pilot's head is mounted on top of the helmet. The eye tracker is mounted on the front of the helmet, and is ll exactly where the pilot's eye is fixating. Frecker said that "successful integration of our eye tracker into the novel helmet-mounted CAE flight simulator would result in a new generation of simulators that would likely replace the current large domes and cumbersome video display units." Initial tests of the integrated system will be carried out in collaboration with CAE Electronics at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona later this year