Airbus Group is pioneering uses of immersive virtual reality for human factors engineering research and other applications

The Airbus Group Innovations research and technology network is flying ahead, using a new perspective to stay at the forefront of modern aircraft flight deck technology.

Researchers are deploying an immersive virtual reality environment to advance cockpit design and human factors research to the next level with digital technologies – offering significant time and cost savings, as well as flexibility at early design stages.

“There is more data than ever before available to pilots, and the cockpit environment is continually being refined to improve interface with aircraft systems,” said Daniel Dreyer, a Research Specialist for automatic flight systems in Airbus Group Innovations. “It is critical that we understand how human pilots are operating in this environment.”

Deploying virtual reality

Virtual reality is helping Airbus Group innovate to evolve modern aircraft cockpits.

Airbus Group Innovations has created a realistic virtual reality flight deck environment that consists of a cockpit mock-up connected to a flight simulator. This is supplemented by tools for visualization and interaction – including a high-resolution head-mounted display, along with an optical head- and finger-tracking system.

This complete system puts the user in a fully functional cockpit and realistic operating scenarios, where Airbus Group Innovations human factors experts can monitor and study behavior by cameras, eye-tracking devices and other methods.

Saving time in design

This mixed view shows a user in the ACROSS demonstrator on the left side, with the virtual reality mockup on the right.

Creating a realistic environment using virtual reality at the early stages of design is a key breakthrough that increases flexibility, reactivity and cost effectiveness. It also provides an important addition to the development process between low-fidelity desktop simulators and expensive high-fidelity full-flight simulators.

Another benefit of the system is its modular architecture – allowing new elements and components to be added without extensive modifications or needing to create extra systems or hardware.

Airbus Group Innovations’ virtual reality flight simulator was initially developed through its participation in the European Union’s ACROSS initiative for air transport safety – which brings together a consortium of 35 partners from 12 countries.

Expanding applications of the virtual reality cockpit

Airbus Group Innovations’ displayed the ACROSS demonstrator at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow

Highlighting this truly innovative approach, the promise of the virtual reality flight simulator was displayed with the ACROSS demonstrator during this year’s Farnborough Airshow in Airbus Group’s technology showcase in its exhibition area.

“We received comments from a range of different people – from Airbus people that were interested in offering this to customers for training, to pilots who praised the system’s high fidelity,” Dreyer said.

He added that the industry experts at the show clearly saw the value of also using this virtual reality flight simulator technology for training, identifying a new area of applications for Airbus Group Innovations to investigate going forward.

 “The verdict was clear,” he said. “Virtual reality is the future!”