“iAssyst” – The Flight Trainer in the Eyes
During flight, pilots collect, evaluate and process a flood of visual, acoustic and spatial information. They practice observing and operating the instruments in the correct sequence during maneuvers in the flight simulator. Even experienced flight instructors do not know whether the student pilot is looking in the right direction in the cockpit and has actually internalized the procedure. While they are training and observing students, instructors are also supervising the training program and operating the simulator in the background. They sit behind the trainee with no eye contact. “Trainers can detect the direction the student’s head moves, but not which of the control panels – which are only one or two centimeters in size – they are actually looking at,” says David Rudi from ETH Zurich, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to developing a software program that provides instructors with precise data on their trainees’ line of vision.
In order to display the eye tracking data optimally, he programmed many new components for his “Instructor Assistant System” (iAssyst) software. This software links video, audio and simulator recordings and clearly shows the exact movements of the trainee pilots’ eyes via measurable data. It then displays individual flight parameters of the simulator as text, and others as film, for example flight data and navigation displays. A camera records the setting in the simulator. Seven instructors currently working for Swiss evaluated the new program. The feedback was consistently positive. “iAssyst increases instructors’ capacity and makes their observations more precise,” says Swiss pilot Christoph Amman.
He believes that the eye-tracking system could be used beyond aviation: “iAssyst can be used wherever people learn how to operate certain systems: controlling power lines on several screens, for example, or in medical training when doctors use simulators to practice surgical procedures.
In order to answer the question “Can anticipatory perception be trained in the cockpit?”, 43 pilots each completed two maneuvers in the flight simulator. Aviation psychologists from NASA and the University of Oregon developed a corresponding training program and examined its effect on the participants’ flight behavior using the data collected. Although the second maneuver differed from the first, the researchers observed some improvement in flight performance among the students who had received the training.
Photos and Video: © David Rudi, ETH Zurich