Air Traffic Control using Virtual Reality

MAY 23, 1993

Copyright 1993 by Ralph E. Kenyon Jr.

Newly emerging technology promises to improve air safety by providing an instrumentation format much more suitable to human spatial perception.

Envision a darkened domed room with headgear suspended from the ceiling and speakers around the room. An air traffic controller enters the room and places a headgear unit on his head. Immediately his view changes from that of a darkened room to an aerial view of his airport. The other controllers on duty appear to him as semi-transparent giants standing about the airport (as he also appears to them). He can see approaching aircraft coming from every direction. With a simulated pen he can walk over to an aircraft and write symbols near it; the symbols will go with the plane. He can also attach projection vectors to each aircraft that show the projected position of the craft in a given unit of time. The computer software which generates the view can also color the virtual display of an approaching aircraft to signify its relative danger or risk.

Not only can he see the planes in their positions relative to the airport, he can hear them. The virtual reality sound system generates the sounds so that he hears them coming from the aircraft. If he happens not to be looking in the direction of a newly approaching aircraft, he will be alerted by hearing the craft -- and he will hear it from the direction of its approach. And when an aircraft talks to him, the sound of its pilot's voice seems to come from the location of that aircraft.

By using virtual reality involving both visual and auditory modes the information about aircraft in the vicinity of an airport can be presented as a three dimensional immersion display. Such a display allows a completely natural cognitive interface to human information processing. The operator will seem to "see" everything directly. An operator in a three dimensional audio-visual virtual reality immersion display system can view the information displayed from an almost "god-like" perspective without having to translate symbols. The operator can see the whole picture presented, and he can spot potential trouble immediately.

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