MOSCOW, Idaho Heads-up displays, popularized in the Gulf War, where pilots used the windscreen overlays to direct smart bombs to their targets, are getting an important intuitive addition based on work here at the University of Idaho. With a recent $474,000 Air Force Office of Scientific Research award to psychologist Brian Dyre, he and a half-dozen of his students will investigate the use of "peripheral vision" in heads-up displays.
"The advantage of using peripheral vision to supplement normal heads-up displays is that the extra information doesn't require any extra attention-peripheral vision provides cues that impart information without the pilot having to think about it," said Dyre.
Peripheral vision occupies a fuzzy region around the edges of the visual field, and is routinely used by people driving and playing sports to provide cues about speed, vertical orientation (roll-about-the-line-of-sight, called "attitude" by pilots) and heading. For instance, when driving a car in heavy traffic, the central part of the visual field is fixed on the car in front of you, which is at rest with respect to your car-since you are both driving at approximately the same speed. Nevertheless, drivers still enjoy the sensation of speed, because peripheral vision fuzzily shows fixed objects to both sides of the road flashing by.
"If we can identify the visual cues that enable peripheral vision to impart information to drivers and pilots without their thinking about it, then we can greatly increase the safety and skill of those drivers and pilots without adding any additional burdens to their mental work load," said Dyre.
Military aircraft use heads-up displays to overlay tactical information onto the center of the windscreen, indicating, for instance, their gunsights, altitude readouts and other text and graphical indicators. The problem with such displays is that the pilot must pay attention to them-must "read" them in real-time-to digest the information they display.
Peripheral-vision displays, on the other hand, impart information without requiring the pilot to "pay attention." For instance, speed could be signalled in a peripheral-vision heads-up display by showing virtual "street signs" flashing by at the edges of vision in the same way that drivers judge car speeds in heavy traffic.
Dyre said General Motors is interested in providing such displays on consumer vehicles as well. For instance, in the new millennium, GM said it will offer night-vision systems on Cadillac DeVilles that enable drivers to "see" up to five times further down a dark road by virtue of infrared sensors that reach farther than normal headlights. The addition of peripheral vision to such night-vision-equipped vehicles could also impart speed information that is almost totally lacking in the dark.
"Our job will be to discover the types of cues that will safely impart this information without confusing drivers-the driver must be able to stay focused on the center of the road as usual, rather than be distracted by the information being imparted," said Dyre.