Believe it or not, virtual reality has become a household product, especially in the realm of video games. But sometimes the need for virtual reality technology is far from a game – sometimes it can help solve a significant challenge.
The NRC Aerospace Research Center is the first known team in the world to fly with Integrated Reality (IR), a technology that takes elements of the real world and integrates them into a virtual environment. As part of the Integrated Reality In-Flight Simulation (IRIS) project, the NRC research team applied this unique simulation tool to its Bell 412 helicopter for ship-to-helicopter operations, an essential capability where a ship can rely on a helicopter to transfer parts, mail or personnel, or perform search and rescue or other military operations at sea. Since helicopters often have to operate in very rough seas and strong winds, the ability to predict pilot workload will increase the accuracy of flight simulators and save time, money and resources during the early stages of ship design processes, which in turn will reduce the overall risk.
The long-term goal of this project is to analyze pilot workload under different conditions and enable flight test teams to significantly reduce the costs of actual flight testing. It will provide researchers with an in-depth understanding of factors affecting pilot workload and human factors associated with complex environments.
How the technology works
Several elements are essential to the successful operation of this technology, the first being the very particular configuration of the Bell 412 helicopter. This advanced research aircraft can be programmed to simulate other aircraft, in all areas, from the feel of the controls how the plane reacts to certain movements. To model the ship’s environment, IRIS technology combines data from scale models of the ship and helicopter placed in an NRC wind tunnel with wind and turbulence data in areas where the helicopter would fly in the wake of the ship. This information is then manipulated and converted into forces and moments that are fed into the Bell 412’s system, causing the helicopter to react as if it were actually experiencing that specific, real turbulence. Within this simulation, several tests can be performed and conclusions can be drawn to support the flight team’s research.
NRC collaborators on this project are the Department of National Defense and Defense Research and Development Canada. Project results will support the operations of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
So the next time you hear the words “virtual reality,” be sure to think outside the realm of video games and see what this technology can help you discover.