Virtual and mixed reality is ready for take-off

04 July 2018
There are numerous aviation applications for virtual reality and augmented reality. Source: Getty Images

VR and related technologies can be effective tools for safe teaching and training when used properly

A recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference explored the benefits of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems for training and simulation, as the technologies become more readily available.

The inaugural Aviation Virtual & Augmented Reality Summit (AVARS), held in Geneva on 5–6 June, shocked delegates with the ‘death’ of a virtual passenger. Professor Luca Chittaro of the University of Udine, Italy, was presenting a VR application for teaching passengers the correct ‘brace’ position in an emergency. The plane crashed; the passenger died; and the audience gasped.

The demonstration underlined two important points. First, VR and related technologies can be effective tools for teaching and training when used properly. Passengers learned the ‘brace’ position better from the application than from an in-flight safety card. Second, the technology can improve safety because users are able to learn from mistakes in a virtual environment before they cause serious damage in the real world.

The case for VR and AR

Other presentations at AVARS showed VR and AR can improve efficiency and cut costs, although investment can be expensive. VR uses headsets and on-screen applications, while AR superimposes virtual sensory information on the real world, for example by wearing special glasses. Neither technology is new, but their application in aviation is in its infancy with experts predicting accelerated growth.

“The future is exponential,” said Torsten Wingenter of the Hamburg-based European Institute for Exponential Technologies & Desirable Futures (futur/io), referring to virtual technologies, as well as the broader underlying computing power.

The AVARS summit showed how wide their use can be, from training cabin crews to supervising actual cargo loading and controlling air traffic. For ground-handling, training systems can deal with aircraft refuelling, fitting towbars, and other tasks.

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