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Raytheon Technology Makes Skies Safer for Army Pilots

A small piece of glass sits just in front of a pilot's eye displaying a mind boggling amount of information, changing views by a simple turn of the head, gathering information on terrain and location of an enemy, displaying moving maps and playing video—all while the pilot keeps his eyes "on the road." It sounds like science fiction, but it's a reality being engineered by workers at Raytheon Technical Services Company in Indianapolis. The facility recently earned a $3.5 million contract from the U.S. Army to make helmet mounted display units for helicopter pilots who rely on one critical element for their safety: information.

"It's a heads-up display that allows the pilot to have information positioned directly in front of his eye," says Raytheon Program Manager of Air Mission Integration Services Brian Murphy. "The display is actually attached to the helmet; he doesn't have to look down at his cockpit information. It's all right in front of his eye, so he can keep his head up and get information that's critical to maneuvering the aircraft and battle space." Listen

The Common Helmet Mounted Display (CHMD) uses a small rectangular monocle, slightly larger than a quarter, to display a staggering amount of information just one inch from the pilot's eye, including real-time data about the aircraft's performance, moving maps, and visual and audio cues from sensors that allow a pilot to "see" through the cockpit floor or behind the aircraft. Listen

Raytheon says the Army's main goal as it deploys the technology is increasing soldiers' "situational awareness," which the company describes as real-time information about the battle space and the pilot's interaction with it. Murphy says one feature, called blue force tracking, shows the pilot "where the good guys and bad guys are on the battlefield." Raytheon compares the physical traits and basic functionality of the technology to Google glass, the wearable monocle display for the consumer market.

"The monocle is positioned directly in front of the eye, but as you're looking at it, it doesn't appear to be an inch from your eye," says Murphy. "You get a sense that you're looking at a video monitor a little bit away from you."

Murphy says earlier versions of mounted helmet displays gave pilots occluded views, so they could only see the information that was being displayed and nothing behind it, but the CHMD is a "see-through" technology.

"It allows you to see all the information or play video on the eye display," says Murphy, "but if you choose to focus on the environment outside the cockpit, you can see through the display, so it truly is a see-through technology."

In addition to visual information, the CHMD also incorporates the company's new "3-D Audio," which alerts pilots of the exact direction a sound is coming from, an improvement over current warning technology that requires pilots to look at and interpret a visual display. Watch a video demo of 3-D audio

"It gives you spatial reference of the sound that's coming at you, just like if someone's talking to you in the front, or talking to you from the rear, your brain is able to process that," says Rudy Lewis, Raytheon vice president of customized engineering and depot support (CEDS). "If you're getting information from a sensor that detects a threat coming from a certain direction, that sound is presented to you in the direction that the threat is coming from." Listen

One of the most important features of the technology is that it's compatible with existing helmets used by Army pilots. Raytheon says such "technology insertions" are the niche of its Indianapolis facility, which focuses on engineering solutions that extend the life of clients' existing platforms. In addition to spearheading the project, final assembly and testing will be done at the Indianapolis location, which employs nearly 1,000 people. Listen

"People come to work here each day recognizing they're doing something that's really important and has the ability to save lives and positively affect our country," says Lewis. "Our real focus is making sure our men and women in battle have the best technology to ensure success in executing their mission, but just as importantly, to make sure they come home safely."

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