Vision Science and Technology
Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center have for many years been heavily involved with conducting research on visual technology for humans. The major areas explored include vision science, image
compression, imaging and displays, and visual human factors. Specific projects have investigated such issues as eye-tracking accuracy, image enhancement, metrics for measuring image quality, and methods to measure and improve the visibility of in-flight and air traffic control monitor displays.
The information gained from this and other NASA-conducted research has played an important role in the development of such important and innovative human-assisting technologies as virtual reality goggles, helmet-mounted displays, and so-called glass cockpits.
The latter concept, which NASA pioneered in the 1970s, refers to the replacement of conventional cockpit analog dials and gauges with a system of cathode ray tubes (CRT) or liquid crystal display (LCD) flatpanels that display the same information in a more readable and usable form. Conventional instruments can be difficult to accurately read and monitor, and they are capable of providing only one level of information. Computerized "glass” instrumentation, on the other hand, can display both numerical and graphic color-coded readouts in 3-D format; furthermore, because each display can present several layers of information, fewer are needed. This provides the pilot larger and more readable displays. This technology, which is now used in nearly all airliners, business jets, and an increasing number of general-aviation aircraft, has improved flight safety and aircrew efficiency by decreasing workload, fatigue, and instrument interpretation errors.
A related vision technology that NASA researchers helped develop is the head-up display. This transparent display allows a pilot to view flight data while looking outside the aircraft. This is especially useful during approaches for landing, when the pilot’s attention needs to be focused on events outside the cockpit. This concept was originally developed for the Space Shuttle and military aircraft but has since been
adapted to commercial and civil aircraft, air traffic control towers, and even automobiles.