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David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Heads-Up Display for Skydivers

When adrenaline junkies become data junkies.

  • October 19, 2012

This blog has brought you stories on a variety of heads-up displays, a technology formerly relegated, largely, to the profession of fighter pilot. We’ve seen heads-up displays for athletes (for when you just have to know your heart-rate while cycling), and contact lenses that mirror the properties of heads-up displays (or a “heads-anywhere display,” I called it). Even Google’s Project Glass, looked at in a certain light, is a kind of heads-up display for the masses.

A company called Recon Instruments, though, feels that we don’t need a heads-up display for the masses. Rather, thinks Recon, we need to bring niche thinking to heads-up displays. Yesterday, the company announced its desire to make a product for a very niche market indeed: skydivers, wingsuit pilots, or BASE jumpers. Kickstarter style, if 250 people pre-order the product, Recon promises to make it.

Their product comes too late to help Felix Baumgartner, who famously fell to Earth last week (see “The Technology Behind the Red Bull Stratos Stunt Dive”). But he seems to have done fine without it.

What exactly would the Flight HUD, as the product is being called, show? Speed, altitude, and something called “glide ratio.” What’s glide ratio? As Recon puts it, it’s “the ratio between how much distance you are traveling forward to how much you are falling downward. Simply put, the higher the number the more you are flying rather than falling.”

This could be crucial data in particular for wingsuit aficionados, who like to glide like flying squirrels. Traditionally, they’re only able to get a solid read on their glide ratio after the fact, replaying their flight with data from GPS. Flight HUD, which is adapted from HUD goggles already used by skiers, could bring them this data in real time. (Here, the specs on Flight HUD.)

 Wingsuit Pilot Jeb Corliss make an eloquent plea for his fellow adrenaline junkies to become data junkies, and to pre-order their own Flight HUD goggles. He says it could revolutionize their sport–and that tech like this is a necessity, not a nice-to-have.

The price for Flight HUD will be $299 for the first 250 pre-orders, $349 thereafter. If the project is a success, Recon Instruments might adapt this model to support other niche sporting communities. Explained CMO Tom Fowler in a release: “We are inundated with requests from athletes and participants from a wide variety of sports to create bespoke HUDs for their specific use. Flight HUD is Recon’s first special project whereby a certain number of pre-orders will unlock a special production.”

So while Google paves the way for mass adoption of the heads-up display, Recon Instruments shows us the other extreme: custom-fitted HUD.

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