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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 1, 2004

Lab Wins Grants To Develop Synthetic Helicopter Vision System

The Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL) in the University of Iowa College of Engineering Center for Computer Aided Design (CCAD) has received a total of $60,000 in grants, $30,000 from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium and $30,000 from the U.S. Army/NASA Ames Research Center, to develop symbologies -- easily identifiable pictures -- for a synthetic vision system to help reduce vision-related helicopter crashes.

Project principal investigator Tom Schnell, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and OPL director, and Mike Keller, co-principal investigator and OPL research associate, say that the project will result in a system that will help helicopter pilots to better see surrounding terrain and potential hazards.

"We will integrate the Ames Research Center helicopter flight model into the flight simulator at the OPL," Schnell says. "We will measure the flight technical performance, eye scanning behavior, workload, and situation awareness of about 10 Army helicopter pilots flying a standard mission profile."

In related research, the OPL currently is evaluating airline and military pilot performance on flight decks equipped with synthetic and enhanced vision information systems (SVS/EVS). The two-year, $120,000 study -- funded by Rockwell Collins, the Iowa Space Grant Consortium and matching equipment support from the University of Iowa -- involves a system that may revolutionize air travel. If successful, the real-time vision system would allow commercial air carriers to make much better use of existing airspace during periods of low visibility and enable more planes to land safely.

Other recently awarded OPL grants include a $195,000 Rockwell Collins study on Spatial Orientation Enhancement Systems (SOES) and a $466,032 NASA Langley Research Center grant called Advanced Media/Portable Media, which is an effort to develop a low-cost Synthetic Vision System for General Aviation pilots. Both research efforts will make use of the Computerized Airborne Research Platform (CARP), OPL/CCAD's new flight test aircraft, an A-36 Beech Bonanza.

Schnell notes that the Army/NASA Rotorcraft Division at the NASA Ames Research Center is actively conducting SVS/EVS research for helicopters and is confident that the UI team will make a positive contribution. Also, the project likely will make UI engineers better able to support NASA research objectives, thereby enhancing future student workforce opportunities. Another goal is to involve approximately 60 UI undergraduate and graduate engineering students in a real-world research project, including spending time at a NASA center for a select group.

"This will inspire other students to pursue advanced degrees in order to participate in exciting NASA projects and improve their opportunities for hiring by NASA or a contractor," Schnell says.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,