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‘What you see is what you get’ simply doesn't apply to the technology developed at Electronic Systems in Rochester, UK. Since building the very first head-up display on the Blackburn Buccaneer in 1958, and every iteration of that technology since, our teams have continued to push the envelope of what is possible in the world of visualisation and immersion. The cycle of innovation has led to us being on the precipice of a world only previously seen in pop culture.
When you think of Hollywood staples like Robocop, Terminator, or even Iron Man, you think of the spectacular imagined technology that came with them. Information about a person they're meeting, diagnostics on a machine they're repairing, and objectives of a task that's underway, is up front and in the worldview of those action heroes.
Filmmakers often imagined those aspects of augmented reality (AR) to be decades, maybe even centuries, away. But it's actually already a reality, created in large part thanks to our engineers who have invented new ways of moving and controlling light. In fact, we were producing AR technology through head-up and head-mounted displays before the term AR was even coined.
A big step in AR advancement was immersion. Altered worldviews needed to be smaller and more personable for a complete experience. What makes the aforementioned heroes so appealing isn't that they had the technology available to them, it's that it was a part of them. We took that step with our helmet-mounted displays (HMD), which integrate symbology directly into a pilot's visor; providing a complete head-up, eyes-out experience. Today our Striker® II system is the most advanced HMD in the world, combining full colour and integrated night vision into one system. A combination unseen in any other HMD around the globe. Couple that with the HMD's 3D audio capability, and you have Iron Man in the cockpit.
That leads us to the future. We're currently leveraging those decades of display excellence to develop AR glasses; combining our most advanced display, tracking and sensing technologies. The system is being designed to fit comfortably like a normal pair of glasses and use free-space tracking technology to display guidance, targeting, and mission information to the user, along with sensor video.
“The application of AR is fundamentally changing the way we live our lives by enabling hands-free, eye-level information,” said Chris Colston, Director of Strategic Growth. “Our experience of implementing AR in aviation applications has proven its value and is now maturing to enable a wider deployment of the technology in a smaller wearable form factors, for various applications.”
Despite popular assumption, AR isn't just about what you see, it's also about what you feel. Our active sticks, or active inceptors, help create a fully immersive environment by delivering tactile feedback directly into a pilot's hands, in real time. That force feedback tells the pilot when they're pushing the limits of the aircraft, improving their awareness of their plane's capabilities and the world around them. For more than 25 years, BAE Systems has been the only provider of flight-worthy active inceptors.
AR has been a big part of our DNA for more than six decades, and is only becoming more essential to the world. Our visual and tactile AR technology — from head-mounted and head-up displays to active inceptors — provides users with the essential information they need and gives them a critical edge, where it counts.