ORLANDO, Fla. — Textron subsidiary TRU Simulation + Training is trying out an augmented reality capability in its Bell V-280 Valor helicopter simulator.
The V-280 demonstrator itself is slated to have its first flight by the end of the year in advance of the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role demonstration that will help guide the service’s requirements when developing a Future Vertical Lift program of record. The Army plans to field new helicopters beginning in the early 2030s.
The V-280 Valor simulator has turned heads for several years at defense conferences worldwide for its realism. It’s guided by the helicopter’s actual flight control laws, so flying it in the simulator is the same experience, in a sense, as flying it in real life. The simulator has helped Bell Helicopter show the Army and the public what the helicopter is capable of when it comes to maneuver and speed.
But one of the goals for TRU in developing the V-280 simulator is “to use it as a platform for us to introduce the augmented reality solutions that are out there and we have taken a first cut at it,” John Hayward, TRU’s senior vice president and general manager for the company’s military and business simulation sector, told Defense News at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference on Wednesday.
The technology is “not 100 percent mature and it’s not quite there yet, but it shows you the realm of the possible,” he said.
To bring augmented reality into the cockpit of the simulator, TRU is using an augmented reality/virtual reality headset where users can see their own hands and the actual cockpit controls and avionics. Looking beyond the interior of the helicopter, a virtual scene of a helicopter in flight is superimposed.
The idea is to be able to create a more mobile and easy-setup simulator that breaks free of the need to use an expensive dome and projectors and put the entire virtual reality simulator in a headset environment. And by being able to see your own hands and controls, the learning experience is more real.
While it’s not ready for prime time, Hayward said, “it really gave us the experience to integrate it and learn about it AR and VR, so it’s a good experience for us and it really showcases the current state of technology. The technology is moving so rapidly; by this time next year, I expect it will be amazing.”
And the showroom floor at I/ITSEC is evidence enough that it’s a burgeoning technology. A few other companies brought examples of how to apply the technology to military training, but while closed virtual reality headsets were everywhere, the specific mixed-reality capability didn’t pop up all over the exhibition hall.
Rockwell Collins brought its mixed reality capability ― Coalescence ― to the show again after unveiling it last year. This year it demoed a gunner in the back of a helicopter and a pilot flying a jet. Using an AR/VR headset like TRU, a user can use a real gun and see their own hands, but beyond that a virtual world appears.
For several industry experts at the show, there is great value in being able to see your own hands and real equipment rather than strange avatar versions.
According to Nicholas Scarnato, Rockwell Collins’ director of marketing and strategy for simulation and training solutions, Coalescence is nearly ready for prime time, as compared to where the capability was last year.
TRU’s Hayward said within the rotorcraft industry and particularly with Bell Helicopter, the firm wants to move toward simulator-based training and focus less on aircraft training. This means that the more realistic training can be in a simulator, the better it is for pilots getting less airtime in a real helicopter.
With this understanding, TRU continues — when thinking about simulators for future aircraft — to look at ways to make the experience as real to the pilots as possible.