“We have carefully positioned ourselves to fill a gap that no one else has filled.” Red 6 is advancing AR technology to meet the urgent demand for more efficient and effective jet fighter pilot training, reports Group Editor Marty Kauchak.
A confluence of challenges and problems has merged in fast-jet training programs in the US and its allied partner nations.
At the program level, the US DoD has disestablished service-based adversary squadrons in favor of contracted, fee-for-service support. From a policy perspective, the Pentagon has pivoted its training readiness focus from supporting two decades of ground-based operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to defeating a near-peer threat, led by resurgent Russia and China – and the assets they bring to the fight, including stealthy, next-generation fighters. And finally, there are limitations with the current state-of-the-art in technology-enabled aviation training. To be clear, ever more capable training devices are preparing fifth-generation F35 and legacy-era fighter aircraft pilots for many service and joint missions. However, they are still unable to replicate, with adequate fidelity, many cognitive loads on the pilot, stress for instance, which naturally occur during a mission against a fifth-generation, or other capable airborne adversary.
Enter Dan Robinson, Founder and CEO at Red 6, and his Los Angeles area-based team, which are bringing to bear augmented reality (AR) to help “find a gap in the middle that no one else has been thinking about.” To find this training readiness “sweet spot” currently means dedicating aircrews and their aircraft to complete service-required “blue air” training for combat missions. He added, “If we use synthetics [synthetic training environment] and AR to provide ‘bad guys’ then we have solved a number of problems – the pilot shortage, the costs and the ability to train against near-peer threats.” Robinson, whose military credentials include being an RAF Tornado F3 pilot, a Weapons School graduate, a US Air Force F22 Raptor Instructor Pilot (and the first non-American fighter pilot in the world to fly the Raptor), added Red 6 “is actually a hybrid of the two – allowing the best of AR and simulation, but also providing the best of live flying training as well.”
Training audiences in the military and civil aviation sector are not ready to declare AR as an enabler for most training tasks, due to a number of still to be resolved limitations of the underpinning technology foundation. Indeed, Robinson pointed out the “biggest limitation of AR so far, is that fundamentally, it is an indoor solution only. When you step outdoors into broad daylight, it doesn’t work.” To adapt an AR-based system for outdoor use, the core context of the Red 6 team’s initial breakthrough has been creating a system that tracks outdoors, accurately enough to draw in real time at high speeds. Beyond solving the tracking challenge, the Red 6 team has also needed to increase its outdoor-capable display field-of-view from the current 105 degrees to accommodate a trainee’s peripheral vision and other associated requirements. “We now have a pathway to a 150-degree FoV. At a high level, those are the core differences in terms of what we have wanted to achieve,” he declared.
At the subsystem level, Robinson reports his team is also solving the vexing problem of vergence-accommodation conflict, or how the eyes focus on different presentations at different depths. This phenomenon causes motion sickness and similar discomfort in some individuals fitted with AR head devices. “Over the next 24 months, we have an incredibly exciting pathway to a daylight capable, 150-degree FoV, high-resolution display that will truly solve vergence-accommodation conflict.”
Red 6 is also moving on from an earlier, successful US Air Force Small Business Innovation Research Phase 1 contract to a recently awarded Phase 2 contract to advance its AR roadmap for jet fighter training. Further, Robinson has an active dialogue with simulation and technology primes about Red 6’s efforts and progress in this space. “There are some obvious synergies with some of the big aerospace primes in terms of what they are trying to do and some of the capabilities they have. We have carefully positioned ourselves to fill a gap that no one else has filled and in doing so, it’s become an attractive technology in its own right, and is a key enabler for other technologies – such as the live, virtual, constructive ecosystem.” Indeed, Robinson emphasized the applicability of the Red 6 AR training solution beyond the air domain – for land, maritime and even coalition training audiences, and their increasingly complex scenarios.