Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Space researchers developing tool to help disoriented pilots

14.11.2008
Not knowing which way is up can have deadly consequences for pilots. This confusion of the senses, called spatial disorientation, is responsible for up to 10 percent of general aviation accidents in the United States, with 90 percent of these being fatal, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Although there have been no spatial disorientation accidents in space, it is a major concern for astronaut pilots. A National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) study is tackling the issue by developing a tool that will assist pilots in real-time to overcome spatial disorientation.

Project leader Ron Small said the first step is to understand the factors leading to spatial disorientation, which tends to occur in poor visibility conditions. The root cause, though, is physiology.

“Humans are notoriously bad at figuring out their orientation when flying because we did not evolve in a flight environment, in contrast with birds,” said Small, a member of NSBRI’s Sensorimotor Adaptation Team. “It is worse in a spacecraft because the vehicle can move side to side, up and down, and rotate in all directions.”

The project involves specially designed software that monitors the flight of the vehicle – speed, heading, pitch and altitude – and the actions of the pilot. The system will use audio and visual cues to alert pilots of problems before things get out of hand. The group is also looking at the option of testing a vest with pager-like vibrators distributed throughout that vibrate in a sequence to alert the pilot when an orientation correction is needed.

“It is really important that the system alert pilots in real-time,” said Small, a principal system engineer at Alion Science and Technology Corp., in Boulder, Colo. “We’re not doing the pilot any good if we can only give advice after the fact.”

Small is working closely with co-investigator Dr. Charles Oman, who is NSBRI’s Sensorimotor Adaptation Team Leader and director of the Man Vehicle Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To better understand the problems facing astronauts, the group is building on information from Small’s previous studies of spatial disorientation for the U.S. military and analyzing data from aircraft accidents and space missions. The group has consulted with experts such as former astronaut Dr. Thomas Jones.

“As we go forward with deep space exploration and return to the moon, it’s important to provide the latest tools in the cockpit to help pilots from being misled by spatial disorientation,” said Jones, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and veteran of four space shuttle flights. “Spatial disorientation mistakes in space are very rare, but because of mission costs and the potential for loss of life, you want to do everything possible to preclude them.”

The group has tested the software’s ability to detect spatial disorientation incidents. They are now working to better understand the differences in craft movement in the atmosphere and in space and how the human inner ear functions in both environments. The inner ear helps control the sense of orientation.

The researchers are putting emphasis on lunar landings due to the challenges of reduced gravity and the unfamiliar, dusty terrain. Data collected from helicopters will play a large role in the research since the rotary-propelled aircrafts’ movements are most like a spacecraft touching down on the moon. Low-gravity flight experiments and lunar lander simulations are slated to begin next year.

The project team members believe the onboard aids developed for spaceflight will be an essential tool for pilots of medical emergency helicopters, who often respond to auto accidents on dark, rainy nights when it is easy to become disoriented. Military and civilian pilots are also likely to benefit from the research.

“Pilots of small planes often have less training in spatial disorientation and how to respond to an incident,” Jones said. “Their lives can be saved by having this extra help in the cockpit.”

The NSBRI Sensorimotor Adaptation Team is developing pre-flight and in-flight training countermeasures so that astronauts can adjust more rapidly to weightlessness, to other gravitational environments, and upon return to Earth’s gravity. The team is also developing training tools for telerobotic arm operation.

NSBRI, funded by NASA, is a consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight. The Institute’s science, technology and education projects take place at more than 60 institutions across the United States.

Brad Thomas | NSBRI
Further information:
http://www.nsbri.org
http://www.nsbri.org/NewsPublicOut/Release.epl?r=114

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht New epidemic management system combats monkeypox outbreak in Nigeria
15.12.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

nachricht Gecko adhesion technology moves closer to industrial uses
13.12.2017 | Georgia Institute of Technology

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>