A simulated flight environment for pilot training may soon
be made more realistic through the use of eye-tracking
technology developed by researchers at the University of
Toronto’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IMBE).
Many safety and cost benefits are obtained by training
aircraft pilots under simulated conditions, but to be effective
the simulation must be convicingly realistic. At present, th e
training facilities use large domes and gimballed projectors, or
an array of video screens, to display computer-generated images.
But these installations are very expensive and image resolution
is low. Further, it would take an enormous amount of addi to
improve image quality significantly throughout the whole viewed
However, based on the visual properties of the eye,
realism can be obtained by providing a high-resolution ‘area of
interest’ insert within a large, low-resolution field of view.
If the image-generating computer ‘knows’ where the pilot’s
fixation is, it mage there.
The technology to make this possible was developed by a
research team headed by Professor Richard Frecker and Professor
Moshe Eizenman. The work was carried out in collaboration with
CAE Electronics Ltd. of Montreal with financial support from the
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Their eye-tracker can record and analyze accurately up to
500 eye positions per second. The system works by means of
capturing and processing the reflections of a low-level beam o f
invisible infra-red light shone onto the eye.
Multi-element arrays capture the image of the eye and
digitize the information, which is then processed in real time
by a fast, dedicated signal processing unit. The difference in
position between the ligh tre of the pupil reveals the
instantaneous direction of gaze.
Developments by the IBME team have significantly increased
the speed of signal processing in addition to enhancing accuracy
of eye position estimates. Eizenman believes that “these
improvements make our eye-tracker very effective in monitoring
the large G-force environment where the pilot tends to make
larger eye movements because of contraints which exist on
movements of his head”.
In a new generation of aircraft simulators, under
development by CAE Electronics Ltd. of Montreal, a head tracker
which tells the direction of the pilot’s head is mounted on top
of the helmet. The eye tracker is mounted on the front of the
helmet, and is ll exactly where the pilot’s eye is fixating.
Frecker said that “successful integration of our eye
tracker into the novel helmet-mounted CAE flight simulator would
result in a new generation of simulators that would likely
replace the current large domes and cumbersome video display
Initial tests of the integrated system will be carried out
in collaboration with CAE Electronics at Williams Air Force Base
in Arizona later this year.