The simulator consists of a motion platform suspended from six electrically operated pistons. The pistons can tilt the platform or jerk to simulate acceleration. Motion is controlled by simulation software programmed by FOI's researchers. An operator environment is built on the platform with realistic dashboards and control equipment and a simple addition – to replicate a helicopter cockpit or combat vehicle driver's seat, for example. The pilot or driver can see a setting projected on three walls through a windshield or viewing devices of the same type as the vehicle being simulated.
On this occasion, FOI researchers Björn Lindahl and Johan Hedström have created a combat vehicle setting with the very limited window area found in combat vehicles. Some of the information about the outside setting reaches the driver via monitors.
- This makes it difficult for the driver to get an idea of the surrounding circumstances, in spite of all the aids. Looking at monitors and instruments while manoeuvring a 20+ tonne combat vehicle among soldiers on foot, other vehicles and possibly enemy fire is not optimal. Thus we are testing different interfaces for information transfer – different types of monitors at different positions, helmet displays, sound and vibration, says Björn Lindahl.
On a different occasion, the platform can be built to simulate a helicopter to test landing at a location where the rotor blade causes snow or sand to rise to the point that the pilot cannot see the ground, for example. The aim of this scenario is to test which interfaces give the pilot the best information for a safe landing.
Testing these aspects in real life would be difficult and dangerous. Simulating events on a computer is one alternative, but the sensation of reality is lost. It is this aspect specifically that motion simulators add – the driver or pilot is realistically affected by the law of gravity at abrupt turns and braking, which subsequently leads to a need for information.
- What we are primarily studying is how different types of information affect operators in a specific situation and to which senses information should be given, says Björn Lindahl.
One important conclusion that FOI's researchers have drawn is the importance of using several senses to indicate something important. If the operator's sense of hearing is occupied with radio communication, vibrations can give a warning signal.
- Another important lesson involves maintaining the intuitive aspect in information transfer, for example that warnings should come from the same direction as the threat. Doing so means the operator avoids having to think about what the interface is communicating, and can instead react instinctively, says Björn Lindahl.