NEW EYE TRACKING TECHNIQUES IMPROVE REALISM OF AIRCRAFT

SIMULATORS

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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, th e

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 o f

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.