27 Oct

Virtual Reality: Is It A Future Or A Present Of Flight Simulation?

Virtual reality gets real. The future technology is expected to become much more vivid in the upcoming years and it’s also declared as The Next Big Thing. Much of the excitement about virtual reality recently has come from the gaming industry. But gaming is just a start… Or more like a final stretch. While the technology has been associated mostly with gaming, latterly virtual reality stretched far beyond entertainment and back to its basics. The evolution of virtual reality has a huge impact on flight simulation and always goes hand in hand. But how far virtual reality has already gone? What is the future of it? And the most important question – will flight simulation be included in “that future” as well? Let’s take a short trip above and beyond virtual reality including flight simulation.

So, where did it all begin?

To look into the history of virtual reality is actually really exciting. It’s hard to imagine today, but the concept were invented earlier than you think – even before computers! The first trace of technology came from the world of science fiction and was introduced at early 1935 in a book written by American science fiction writer Stanley Grauman Weinbaum. The short story introduces a google-based virtual reality system with holographic recording of fictional experiences including smell and touch. But the real Big Bang of virtual reality happened in 1962 when cinematographer Morton Heiling, touted as the father of virtual reality, patented his Sensorama Simulator. It’s a simulator that provides the illusion of reality using a 3D motion picture with smell, stereo sound, vibrations of the seat, and wind in the hair in order to create the illusion. After an initial conception, the technology has come a long way and has been adopted by the military. As a result, during this time the technology had become significantly popular as well as became a concept that was believed to be the future. Military vehicle simulations became one of the most successful implementation of virtual reality technology. For sure, one of the most influential facilities of them was the flight simulator used for training purposes. Today a flight simulator has become an essential component of civil aviation operations and military capability.

Moving toward a more modern era and flight to the virtual world

In this era of virtual reality, flight simulator is used for time and cost effective training without using any real aircraft but sophisticated computer systems. Virtual reality creates a perfect environment for training by creating training scenarios anywhere in the virtual world’s airports. Moreover, the modern full flight simulator not only puts you inside the cockpit but also makes you feel like you’re actually flying. In general it’s a system where a user is interactively interfaced to a computer and engaged in a 3D visual task. Outside the simulator’s windows there are displays generated by the sophisticated computers called Computer Generated Images (CGI). The computer provides a virtual domain for supporting 3D models of objects or complete environments and, given suitable transducers, the user can interact with the system in real time. Noteworthy that modern and computerized video system is recognized as one of the turning point in the advancement and evolution of 3D virtual reality solutions used for training (previously, in many of the early generation analogue devices, the pictures of target areas and landmarks have been contained on a moving belt and projected just in front of the “plane”). The visual systems’ development continues to this day. So, currently a full flight simulation is almost indistinguishable from the real world and offers the most realistic flight experience, but still… Sometimes when looking back it seems there has been so little recent innovation in virtual reality for flight training.

On a scale of mass adoption and needs

Today the simulation technology continues to advance and has become accessible to millions of people with the introduction of Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and Google Cardboard. This technology has a potential to gain mass adoption and became mainstream. So, that’s the whole point! Those solutions are recognized as “gateway” devices to bring virtual reality to the public. From now you can already enjoy Deep Sea diving, bird flying or singing with Robbie Williams by the Oculus Rift, but you still can’t feel the pressure in the ears while using full flight simulator for training purposes. Full flight simulation is a fast advancing set of technologies but the bottom line is that it is also highly regulated industry. So, flight simulation is not just about technological development (of course it is about it and a lot). But more it is about people as well as quality and highly-regulated training. All elements of simulator are incorporated into a design that looks and feels more like the actual flight. While other virtually reality solutions are less stringent and might actually be accessible to the masses.

We finally have arrived at the legendary movie “Back to the Future” day, but with roads and without flying cars. Why don’t we have flying cars? Sometimes we just don’t need it. Anyway, we are close to virtual reality every day. See you there!

Story sources: theatlantic.com, book “Virtual Reality Systems” by R. A. Earnshaw, publication “Flight Simulation: an application of Virtual Reality” by V. Wong.
Photo source: BI Intelligence Estimates, businessinsider.com