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Video - Helping pilots see what they do not see

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Since our last report about pilot stress in 2011, these students and researchers from the Higher Institute of Aeronautics and Space (ISAE-Supaero) in Toulouse (south west France), have not interrupted their unusual experiments to help pilots - quite the opposite. Within a decade, this "Eye Tracker", which films the eye in real time, could well be integrated into the cockpits of commercial aircraft in the form of a mini camera in front of each pilot.

Mickael Causse, Research Professor in Neuroscience, ISAE-Supaero 

‘‘We sit down, maybe looking at a fixed point, the system starts, and we’re done. To make it acceptable, it should not be too restrictive for the pilot.’’

If a problem occurs during a flight, scrutinizing the pilot’s gaze could allow us to ensure that their attention is on the important information, and if not, to rectify the situation by NOT adding other visual or audible alarms to those already surrounding them in their environment. For this, several solutions are under consideration: temporary removal of secondary information screens, displaying a flight action, or by vibrating the seat as already exists in certain cars ; but they still have to find the right algorithms.

Mickael Causse, Research Professor in Neuroscience, ISAE-Supaero 

‘‘Each individual is different. There are people who naturally have a more dispersed gaze while they are in their normal state. On the contrary, there are people who are more focused whilst also being in a normal state. Therefore, we still need to learn, not only what is effective for each individual, but also what works in the vast majority of cases. At present that is difficult to achieve.’’

Until the research develops an "Eye Tracker" with the inflight capability of helping pilots in difficulty, this monitoring system could be installed initially to assist crash investigators. Filmed data recorded in the aircraft’s black boxes, could help in knowing where the pilot’s attention was directed in the minutes prior to an accident, and thereby perhaps explain the anomalous decisions they may have made.

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