Pilots in India are trialling aircraft display systems that respond to eye movements and could let military pilots keep their hands on a plane’s controls more often while flying (Murthy, 2020).
Modern aircraft have electronic displays that show the plane’s fuel level, geographical position or imaging system. Pilots can click the screen to the relevant page of information as needed, but doing so requires them to take one hand off the plane’s throttle or control stick.
“When you are flying at different phases, you do not need all this information at the same time,” says Pradipta Biswas at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
He and his colleagues devised an eye-tracking system embedded into a cockpit computer that allows a pilot to choose a relevant display simply by looking at the desired option and then confirming the selection by pressing a button on the control stick.
In a flight simulator, nine pilots tested this system on nearly 600 look-and-select tasks. It halved the time they took to complete the action.
The team has devised a second eye-tracking system that is worn on a pilot’s head and responds to head and eye movements. The researchers tested it in a simulator by asking pilots to look at a button at the centre of the simulated windscreen, which they could select by focusing on it.
In a military setting, the head-mounted system could be used to automatically display information about a target in the distance if a pilot focuses their eyes on it, says Biswas.
To assess whether such devices could be used in real planes, the team asked three Indian Air Force pilots to use commercially available eye-tracking glasses as each flew a transport aircraft and performed standard selection tasks. Their average response time for each task was 2 seconds, just under half the time it usually takes.
Murthy, L.R.D., Mukhopadhyay, A., Yellheti, V., Arjun, S., Thomas, P., Babu, M.D., Saluja, K.P.S. & Biswas, P. (2020) Eye Gaze Controlled Interfaces for Head Mounted and Multi-Functional Displays in Military Aviation Environment. Presented at IEEE Aerospace 2020. https://arxiv.org/abs/2005.13600.