The Case For VR

Training Pilots Using VR Changes Everything

Virtual reality (VR) has found its way into many applications with the introduction of consumer-priced hardware. The immersive representation of the flight deck is one of the main benefits. This provides important advantages over traditional flight simulators including:
  • Reduced training costs
  • Cost savings on aircraft familiarization training
  • Better retention of information
Girl with VTR 3D headset

Basics of VR

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that allows the user to be fully immersed in a three-dimensional (3D), computer-rendered world. In VR, users can explore environments using visual and audio cues, which make the world more realistic and immersive. Users can also interact with objects in their environment, enhancing engagement and encouraging exploration.
A typical VR headset includes a screen or display panels housed in a frame (the headset) that is strapped onto the head of the user. By fixing the screen to the frame, the outside world can be blocked from view, a key part of immersing the user in the virtual world. VR headsets track movement, allowing the image on the screen to adjust to users as they move. Most VR setups use hand controllers, which also feature movement tracking, to enable interaction and aspects of control in the virtual environment. These controls may be simulated in the virtual world as hands to promote more naturalistic manipulation of virtual objects.
VR Benefits
VR training has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its ability to provide a highly immersive and realistic training experience. VR training can be used in a wide range of industries, including aviation, healthcare, education, and more. The following are some of the main benefits of VR training:
Cost-effective: VR training is often more cost-effective than traditional training methods, as it eliminates the need for expensive equipment or travel expenses. Additionally, it allows for the creation of highly customizable virtual environments that would be otherwise impossible or too costly to replicate or modify in real life.
Safety: VR training allows for the simulation of dangerous or high-risk scenarios in a controlled environment, which is crucial for training in fields such as medicine, aviation, and the military. It provides a safe space for learners to make mistakes, as well as to practice emergency procedures and improve their response time.
Immersive and interactive: VR training is highly immersive, allowing learners to experience the training environment as if they were actually there. The interactive nature of VR training allows learners to interact with the training content and make decisions in real-time, making the experience more engaging and effective.
Scalability: VR training allows for training to be scaled up or down depending on the needs of the learners. It also offers individual or group training sessions and allows for the creation of customized training programs.
Retention: VR training can improve learners' retention of information, as it allows them to actively engage with the training content and apply it in a simulated environment. This lets learners internalize and retain the information better, which ultimately improves performance, speed, and accuracy. See Knowledge Retention for more information.
References for further reading
Shu, Y., Huang, YZ., Chang, SH. et al. (2019). Do virtual reality head-mounted displays make a difference?
A comparison of presence and self-efficacy between head-mounted displays and desktop computer-facilitated virtual environments. Virtual Reality 23, 437–446.
Franzluebbers, A., & Johnsen, K. (2018, October). Performance benefits of high-fidelity passive haptic feedback in virtual reality training. In Proceedings of the symposium on spatial user interaction, 16-24.
Buttussi, F., & Chittaro, L. (2017). Effects of different types of virtual reality display on presence and learning in a safety training scenario. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 24(2), 1063–1076.
Makransky, G, Borre-Gude, S, Mayer, RE. (2019). Motivational and cognitive benefits of training in immersive virtual reality based on multiple assessments. J Comput Assist Learn, 35, 691– 707.
Spruill, J., Beaubien, J.M., & Oster, E. (2018). Aligning current VR/AR/MR training with the science of learning. In Proceedings of the 2018 Interservice/Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). Paper No. 18036. Arlington, VA: National Training and Simulation Association.

VR Increases Knowledge Retention

VR training has been shown to be an effective tool for improving knowledge retention among learners. Knowledge retention refers to the ability of learners to retain and recall information after a training session. The following are some of the ways in which VR training can improve knowledge retention:
Virtual Reality goggles offer stereoscopic screens that present two slightly different images of the same scene. This gives the sense of depth and distance in the same way we are able to judge distance with our natural, stereoscopic vision – i.e. our two eyes. Thus, VR is able to accurately and intuitively represent distances in a flight simulation where this aspect is crucial, e.g. when practicing landings where the altitude above the runway in the flare is important to judge correctly, or hovering a helicopter half a meter above the tarmac.
  1. Immersive experience: VR training provides an immersive experience, which can help learners to engage with the training content in a more meaningful and memorable way. This can make the information easier to recall later on.
  2. Active engagement: VR training allows learners to actively engage with the training content, which can also contribute to improved knowledge retention. By allowing learners to interact with the training environment and see the impact of their decisions in real-time, VR training can make the learning experience more engaging and effective.
  3. Real-world application: VR training allows learners to practice and apply the information they have learned in a simulated environment that closely resembles real-world scenarios. This can help learners to internalize the information and make it more relevant and meaningful to them, improving retention and giving them the ability to translate what was learned to the real world.
Further Reading
Yang, P., & Liu, Z. (2022). The influence of immersive virtual reality (IVR) on skill transfer of learners: The moderating effects of learning engagement. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 17(10), 62–73.
Neal, J., G. Fussell, S. G. & Hampton, S. (2020). Research recommendations from the airplane simulation transfer literature. Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research, 29(2).
Ford, J. K., Baldwin, T. T., & Prasad, J. (2018, January). Transfer of training: The known and the unknown. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 5(1), 201–225.
Jallad, S.T., Işık, B. The effectiveness of virtual reality simulation as learning strategy in the acquisition of medical skills in nursing education: a systematic review. Ir J Med Sci 191, 1407–1426 (2022).
Lohre, R., Bois, A. J., Athwal, G. S., & Goel, D. P. (2020). Improved complex skill acquisition by immersive virtual reality training: a randomized controlled trial. JBJS, 102(6), e26.

The Benefits For Flight Training

Depth Perception
The ability to judge distances correctly is a major learning objective in flight training. An experienced pilot may judge distances better due to his vast experience of judging distances. A new pilot student lacks this experience and needs to build it from flying experience. This aspect of flight training is difficult to train in traditional simulators where there is no depth perception. This is because the screen, onto which the outside world is projected, is placed at a fixed distance from the eyes of the student pilot and every object projected onto the screens appears to be at the same distance from the pilot – whether it is a runway 15 feet from the pilot or a tower 5 miles from the pilot.
VR headsets offer stereoscopic screens that present two slightly different images of the same scene. This gives the sense of depth and distance in the same way we are able to judge distance with our natural, stereoscopic vision – i.e., our two eyes. Thus, VR is able to accurately and intuitively represent distances in a flight simulation where this aspect is crucial (e.g., when practicing landings where the altitude above the runway in the flare is important to judge correctly or when hovering a helicopter half a meter above the tarmac).
Figure 2a and 2b show the difference in distance perception between a curved screen typically used in traditional flight simulators and VR headsets. Three targets marked by red, green, and blue Xs are represented at the same distance on a curved screen, while in VR they appear to be at their correct distance from the observer. Targets further away from the observer than the screen appear closer (the blue X), while targets closer to the observer than the screen appear further away (the green X). Only when the target is at the same distance from the observer as the screen will the distance perception be correct (the red X).
360 Degree Vision
Another important lesson every pilot must learn is to perform a proper lookout. Lookout must be performed to watch for traffic and when performing a landing circuit. Traditional flight simulators rarely have a field of vision of more than 180 degrees (see figure 3a), which severely limits the possibility of performing a proper lookout. In these simulators, pilots must often resort to alternative methods of reference, such as timing their turns, because they cannot use the lookout procedures they would use in real aircraft. VR headsets allow the student pilot to look in any direction using accelerometers and gyroscopes (see figure 3b). This means the student may look beyond the 180-degree field of view provided by traditional flight simulators and is able to practice lookouts the same way he would do it in the real aircraft.
Scalability & Modularity
VR training offers a number of benefits related to scalability and modularity. Scalability refers to the ability of a training program to be adapted to the needs of learners at different levels of experience and skill, while modularity refers to the ability to break down a training program into smaller, reusable components. The following are some of the ways in which VR training can provide scalability and modularity benefits:

Meet Our Research Team

Aki Nikolaidis
VR Training Specialist

Aki Nikolaidis, PhD, is our Chief Science Officer and also serves as a tenure track research scientist in the Center for the Developing Brain at the Child Mind Institute. His research focuses on using advanced techniques from artificial intelligence to understand learning in the brain. Dr. Nikolaidis brings this knowledge to his work at VTR to ensure all our work follows the highest standards of scientific integrity. Dr. Nikolaidis completed his undergraduate studies in psychology at Yale University and his PhD in neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. His work has been published in over 25 peer reviewed research studies. Most recently he received the highly prestigious Director’s Award from the National Institute of Mental Health and his work has been cited multiple times by the US Surgeon General. He has received highly prestigious awards and funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, Morgan Stanley Foundation, and Google.

At VTR, Dr. Nikolaidis leads the effort for data analysis and development of machine learning pipelines for analysis of data on pilot performance and learning. Last year, he led the effort for our proof-of-concept study with JetBlue, where we demonstrated that VTR’s product leads to reductions in pilot errors and need for support, while simultaneously increasing the speed of their performance.

By Aki
Dissociable brain biomarkers of fluid intelligence. NeuroImage, 137, 201-211.
Paul, E. J., Larsen, R. J., Nikolaidis, A., Ward, N., Hillman, C. H., Cohen, N. J. & Barbey, A. K.
Multivariate associations of fluid intelligence and NAA.
Nikolaidis, A., Baniqued, P. L., Kranz, M. B., Scavuzzo, C. J., Barbey, A. K., Kramer, A. F., & Larsen, R. J.
Increased parietal activity after training of interference control.
Oelhafen, S., Nikolaidis, A., Padovani, T., Blaser, D., Koenig, T., & Perrig, W. J.
Stephanie Fussell
Aviation VR Research Scientist

Stephanie G. Fussell, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and Aeronautics Program Coordinator with Kent State University’s College of Aeronautics and Engineering. Her research investigates extended reality (XR) technologies for aviation and aerospace training. A proponent of using XR efficiently and effectively, Dr. Fussell’s research concentrates on usability, user experience, and transfer of training. Dr. Fussell earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She has given demonstrations and spoken on numerous panels about the benefits of using XR in aviation training and has twice been awarded an Air Force Research Lab Summer Faculty Fellowship at AFRL-Airman Systems, Warfighter Interactions and Readiness Division 711 HPW/RHW (SF.15.12.B0913).

Dr. Fussell works with Dr. Nikolaidis. She brings her aviation training knowledge and experience in XR usability testing to VTR to help ensure that the VR training environments are meeting user expectations as well as desired training outcomes.

By Steph
Usability testing of a virtual reality tutorial.
Fussell, S. G., Derby, J., L., Smith, J. K., Shelstad, W., J., Benedict, J. D., Chaparro, B. S., Thomas., R., & Dattel, A. R.
The future of XR in training: A conversation.
Fussell, S. G., Thomas, R. L., Birdsong, J. G., Reesman, K. L.

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