Innovation: Working In The Third Dimension

Air traffic controllers at German air navigation service provider Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) monitor up to 10,000 aircraft movements while making sure that air traffic continues without any disruption.

Controllers do this working on large industry-standard radar displays. But, when it comes to estimating flight altitudes, the controller has to rely on indicative labels, since current displays do not provide a view of the third dimension.

But that could change with some research DFS is conducting together with Cassidian, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) in Braunschweig and 3Dims of Frankfurt, which specialises in 3D simulation using Christie equipment.

The point of the research project is to conduct tests at individual workstations that are designed to provide air traffic controllers with a 3D model of the airspace. A prerequisite for the entire system is high resolution. For instance, every aircraft is supposed to be displayed with all relevant data that controllers would expect to see using a standard workstation.

That means screen edges should not be blurry and the detailed image should follow every movement of the air traffic controller’s head to ensure that they retain an optimum viewing angle.

To fulfil these requirements, 3Dims created a special workstation, inside which there are two projectors aimed at two rear projection panels arranged at a 60 degree angle to one another. The projectors have the high resolution system requirements of 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution, active stereo support and ultra-wide-angle lenses.

Friedhelm Birk, founder and managing director of 3Dims, decided after an in-depth benchmarking study of a variety of devices to use two Mirage WU7K-M units from Christie.

While projectors with WUXGA resolution deliver 7,000 ANSI lumens, they operate with reduced power which conserves the lamps and cuts operating costs.

“It was especially important that the devices are absolutely flicker-free, which Christie projectors are. That can be attributed to the 3-Chip DLP technology which is used. Moreover the customer was delighted, since he had expected that the required performance would call for installing gigantic projectors, but that was not necessary,” said Birk.

Christie projectors also scored points with the brightness of the image over the entire area from top to bottom. With two screens arranged one above the other, air traffic controllers inevitably have to look down at the lower display at an angle. In such cases, the displays are normally dark there. Projectors, on the other hand, deliver an evenly bright, balanced and seamless image.

“That was definitely one of the reasons why we received the contract,” added Birk.

Additionally, a separate controller was built into the housing to control all 20 interacting systems and to handle individual activation and deactivation, also allowing the projector units to run after being switched off.

A complex temperature monitoring system was also integrated. Christie projectors are cooled using an auxiliary fan that moves hot air out of the system and away from the front, where air currents can cause images to flicker or flutter.

Projectors also need to be mounted in a stable and precise manner to guarantee a precise image. To this end, 3Dims relies on special racks, where the projectors are mounted on aluminium plates such that they can be adjusted in three axes.

3Dims also used Plexiglas as projection panels, laminated with a special film. Besides double projection, an active 3D stereo system is used with active shutter glasses for the three-dimensional image. A tracking mechanism, which was integrated in the shutter glasses, detects even the smallest movements of the controller’s head and causes the system to react accordingly. An infrared system from Advanced Realtime Tracking is used with corresponding markers at the edge of the glasses and sensors to the left and right of the projection screens.

The objective of the project is to test such a system in order to investigate whether it can offer air traffic controllers any additional benefit without representing a source for additional risk. Training sessions have already been conducted to this end and a number of other research projects are being conducted with regard to assessing any safety risk.

For 3Dims, the project has been an unqualified success requiring tremendous commitment. Two employees spent an entire month working on the design, making adjustments and  honing the result.

“All parties involved have been quite impressed by the quality of the 3D projections which have exceeded all previous simulation attempts done so far,” said Birk.

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Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, Features, Innovation

2 Responses to Innovation: Working In The Third Dimension

  1. John Wise says:

    A very useful report. Thank you

  2. John Wise says:

    Has anyone considered using a Cartesian display to represent height against azimuth and switchable range against azimuth.