NASA’s AR headset lets pilots see through fog

Showing a virtual overlay of the runway and airport

NASA has developed a pair of augmented reality glasses designed especially for commercial airline pilots to see during the worst visual conditions. The glasses include a heads-up display showing a virtual overlay of the runway and airport, head tracking technology, and voice controls – features that may help pilots keep their eyes where they’re most needed.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia first unveiled its new head-worn display system when it put out a call for an interested company to manufacture and market the device. The NASA Aviation Safety Program developed the technology while researching better equipment for use while navigating the runway, since this is when the majority of plane crashes occur. Since the flight crew’s awareness of their surroundings is a key factor, the research team focused on the best way to produce a clear image of the outside of an aircraft no matter the weather or time of day.

While wearing the glasses, a pilot can see a 3D virtual overlay of the runway and airport in one eye, which updates in real-time and includes markers to highlight nearby objects, runway routes, and traffic in the area. A built-in head tracker follows the pilot’s head movements as they look around the windshield and adjusts the image to their viewpoint. The added voice controls and displayed info about the aircraft itself – including speed, altitude, and direction – allow the pilot to keep their eyes focused on the runway ahead of them instead of down at a cockpit screen.

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