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Pilot’s Pal

Aircraft cockpits use an array of gauges and dials that pilots read one by one but must understand collectively. A visual interface developed by David Still, a researcher at the University of West Florida’s Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, FL, gives pilots all the information they need in a single graphic display. The interface shows the plane’s position, orientation, speed, and systems status, as well as the location of runways and approaching aircraft. A software model takes the place of the rules of thumb pilots normally use to process the data, says Still, a pilot trained in vision science. To give the engines the right amount of power, for instance, a pilot needs only to align certain geometrical shapes on the display screen. Flight simulator tests in Still’s lab suggest that the system is safer and more effective than conventional displays, especially when pilots are dealing with turbulence or reading maps. Still has patented the interface and is working with the U.S. Navy to conduct field tests.

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