Eye-tracking system facilitates pilot training

Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a system to facilitate pilot training and thus make flying safer. The software uses eye-tracking to reveal perception gaps.

Two pilots in the cockpit landing a plane

During their training in the flight simulator, pilots learn to monitor the numerous instruments in the cockpit and to look at the displays at the correct moment and in the proper order. In the background, instructors control the simulation and observe the reactions of the trainee pilots. However, it is difficult for them to judge whether, during their “systematic scan” of the displays, the future pilots are really looking in the right direction at the correct moment.

As the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich reports, instructors will soon be able to count on the support of a new system. It is based on eye-tracking technology and was developed in a partnership between ETH Zurich and the airline “Swiss”.

Eye-tracking involves the precise recording of the gaze direction and eye movements by cameras. Although eye-tracking glasses are also available, the team of researchers led by Martin Raubal from ETH Zurich used cameras and infrared sensors installed in the flight simulator so as not to disturb the flight trainees. While this extends the time required to set up the system and calibrate it for each new trainee, it delivers better results, explains David Rudi from ETH Zurich, who was involved in the development.

The visualization of the line of sight is a core element of the “iAssyst” software (short for “Instructor Assistant System”), which also integrates video, audio, and simulator recordings. An evaluation by seven active “Swiss” airline instructors confirmed the benefits of the system. “The tool helps us to identify weaknesses in the systematic scans and to identify perception gaps in certain flight phases”, explained Benedikt Wagner, a “Swiss” pilot and instructor who supervised the project on behalf of “Swiss”. It helps us to assess pilot errors and to adapt the training accordingly.

Written by: sda

Photos: David Rudi / ETH Zurich

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