The NRC's Aerospace Research Centre, the first known team in the world to fly with integrated reality
- Ottawa, Ontario
Believe it or not, virtual reality has become a household commodity, especially in the realm of video games. But sometimes the need for virtual reality technology is far from being a game — something it can help to solve a significant challenge.
The NRC's Aerospace Research Centre is the first known team in the world to fly with integrated reality (IR), a technology that takes elements from the real-world and integrates them into a virtual environment. Under the Integrated Reality In-Flight Simulation (IRIS) project, the NRC's research team has been applying this unique simulation tool to its Bell 412 helicopter for ship-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 are often required 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 lower the overall risk.
This project has the long-term goal of analyzing pilot workload in different conditions and enabling flight test teams to significantly decrease the costs of actual flight testing. It will provide researchers with a deep understanding of the factors affecting pilot workload and the human factors associated with complex environments.
How the technology works
There are several essential elements to making sure this technology works, the first one being the very unique configuration of the Bell 412 helicopter. This advanced research aircraft can be programmed to simulate other aircraft, in everything from how the controls feel, to how the aircraft reacts to certain movements. To model the ship environment, the IRIS technology combines data from scaled models of the ship and helicopter placed in an NRC wind tunnel with data on the wind and turbulence in the areas where the helicopter would be flying in the wake of the ship. This information is then manipulated and converted into forces and moments that are introduced into the Bell 412's system, causing the helicopter to react in the same manner as if it were actually experiencing that specific, real-life turbulence. Under this simulation, several tests can be conducted and conclusions can be made to support the flight team's research.
The NRC's collaborators for this project are the Department of National Defence, and Defence Research and Development Canada. Project outcomes will support operations for both the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
So next time you hear the words "virtual reality", remember to think outside the realm of video games, and see what else this technology can help discover.