ASA is utilising Augmented Reality technology to collect and distribute vital data about the vehicles in our skies, such as drones, to those who need it. Whether the information is needed for managing air traffic, local governance or emergency response, visualising complex data in augmented reality allows for easier awareness and understanding of the operations of vehicles which populate our skies. 

Joey Mercer, a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley commented: 

"When you see vehicles like drones a few hundred feet above your head, you're a lot more curious about what's going on than with a plane that's several thousands of feet in the sky," 

Mercer continued:

"We wanted to make some of the invisible information about the automated traffic systems managing these vehicles, and the vehicles themselves, more easily accessible from the ground."

The air traffic management software was developed at the Airspace Operations Laboratory at Ames. The augmented reality software creates a digital overlay which features essential data such as flight patterns and a vehicle’s mission. 

To date, airspace operators, emergency responders and local public officials have access to what is occurring in airspace, however, as more unconventional vehicles populate the skies, it is essential to do so safely and with the appropriate communication to those in official roles. 

The software can be used through Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed reality headset, to visualise the data in the real world. Users can simply swipe and select items through hand gestures and eye tracking technology, enhancing air traffic management through interactive software and wearable technology. 

As well as accessing information through the Microsoft HoloLens headset, the software can also be used on a smartphone device, making it more widely accessible. 

Augmented reality technology is continuing to contribute to NASA’s future in the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which aims to enhance the air transportation system that transports both people and cargo to destinations previously not served or underserved by aviation. 

New technologies, including augmented reality, are helping to address the barriers which come with drones and other uncrewed vehicles which don’t have a set flight path or trajectory and are more visible to the public.  

Through the power of augmented reality, researchers can test air traffic management systems by overlaying real-world environments with interactive data visualisations, including other simulated aircraft.

During NASA’s  fourth and final Technical Capability Level demonstration, or TCL4, of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management, or UTM, project, the technology underwent a field evaluation. Researchers utilised Microsoft HoloLens headsets to see the prototype software and track the drones in real time and gather important data. 

Mercer concluded that:

"Uncrewed aircraft are more and more becoming a part of our lives… As we look at how to safely integrate these vehicles into already complex city infrastructures and airspaces, augmented reality is a great tool, with a lot of potential for how we think of managing our skies in the future."

Nov 18, 2020
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