Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Space Researchers Developing Tool To Help Disoriented Pilots

Date:
November 14, 2008
Source:
National Space Biomedical Research Institute
Summary:
Confusion of the senses can lead to serious consequences for airplane pilots. This perception problem, known as spatial disorientation, is also a major concern for astronaut pilots, especially those who will perform lunar landings. Scientists and engineers are developing a tool that will provide real-time assistance to pilots during spatial disorientation events in Earth's atmosphere and in space.

Lead investigator Ron Small analyzes data for a National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) project to develop a system that will help astronaut pilots in real-time to overcome the effects of spatial disorientation. Also, the system will likely have benefits for military, general aviation and helicopter pilots. Small is a principal system engineer at Alion Science and Technology Corp., in Boulder, Colo., and a member of the NSBRI Sensorimotor Adaptation Team.
Credit: Image courtesy of National Space Biomedical Research Institute

Not knowing which way is up can have deadly consequences for pilots. This confusion of the senses, called spatial disorientation, is responsible for up to 10 percent of general aviation accidents in the United States, with 90 percent of these being fatal, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Although there have been no spatial disorientation accidents in space, it is a major concern for astronaut pilots. A National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) study is tackling the issue by developing a tool that will assist pilots in real-time to overcome spatial disorientation.

Project leader Ron Small said the first step is to understand the factors leading to spatial disorientation, which tends to occur in poor visibility conditions. The root cause, though, is physiology.

“Humans are notoriously bad at figuring out their orientation when flying because we did not evolve in a flight environment, in contrast with birds,” said Small, a member of NSBRI’s Sensorimotor Adaptation Team. “It is worse in a spacecraft because the vehicle can move side to side, up and down, and rotate in all directions.”

The project involves specially designed software that monitors the flight of the vehicle – speed, heading, pitch and altitude – and the actions of the pilot. The system will use audio and visual cues to alert pilots of problems before things get out of hand. The group is also looking at the option of testing a vest with pager-like vibrators distributed throughout that vibrate in a sequence to alert the pilot when an orientation correction is needed.

“It is really important that the system alert pilots in real-time,” said Small, a principal system engineer at Alion Science and Technology Corp., in Boulder, Colo. “We’re not doing the pilot any good if we can only give advice after the fact.”

Small is working closely with co-investigator Dr. Charles Oman, who is NSBRI’s Sensorimotor Adaptation Team Leader and director of the Man Vehicle Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To better understand the problems facing astronauts, the group is building on information from Small’s previous studies of spatial disorientation for the U.S. military and analyzing data from aircraft accidents and space missions. The group has consulted with experts such as former astronaut Dr. Thomas Jones.

“As we go forward with deep space exploration and return to the moon, it’s important to provide the latest tools in the cockpit to help pilots from being misled by spatial disorientation,” said Jones, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and veteran of four space shuttle flights. “Spatial disorientation mistakes in space are very rare, but because of mission costs and the potential for loss of life, you want to do everything possible to preclude them.”

The group has tested the software’s ability to detect spatial disorientation incidents. They are now working to better understand the differences in craft movement in the atmosphere and in space and how the human inner ear functions in both environments. The inner ear helps control the sense of orientation.

The researchers are putting emphasis on lunar landings due to the challenges of reduced gravity and the unfamiliar, dusty terrain. Data collected from helicopters will play a large role in the research since the rotary-propelled aircrafts’ movements are most like a spacecraft touching down on the moon. Low-gravity flight experiments and lunar lander simulations are slated to begin next year.

The project team members believe the onboard aids developed for spaceflight will be an essential tool for pilots of medical emergency helicopters, who often respond to auto accidents on dark, rainy nights when it is easy to become disoriented. Military and civilian pilots are also likely to benefit from the research.

“Pilots of small planes often have less training in spatial disorientation and how to respond to an incident,” Jones said. “Their lives can be saved by having this extra help in the cockpit.”

The NSBRI Sensorimotor Adaptation Team is developing pre-flight and in-flight training countermeasures so that astronauts can adjust more rapidly to weightlessness, to other gravitational environments, and upon return to Earth’s gravity. The team is also developing training tools for telerobotic arm operation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Space Biomedical Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Space Biomedical Research Institute. "Space Researchers Developing Tool To Help Disoriented Pilots." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113140427.htm>.
National Space Biomedical Research Institute. (2008, November 14). Space Researchers Developing Tool To Help Disoriented Pilots. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113140427.htm
National Space Biomedical Research Institute. "Space Researchers Developing Tool To Help Disoriented Pilots." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081113140427.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins