Turning Hollywood fiction, into augmented reality.

It’s no surprise that the majority of today’s pilots fly with aircraft equipped with Augmented Reality (AR) displays.

BAE Systems engineers are working to develop one of the highest performing, most durable augmented reality glasses on the market.

Take a moment to picture this: You’re at the helm of a $100 million fighter jet, deep in enemy territory, soaring through thick cloud at speeds in excess of 1,000mph. With every second that passes you hurtle another 1,500ft into the unknown, with no idea when you might burst through the end of the mist, but more importantly, clueless to what might be the other side. It’s conceivable you may have a reluctance to take your eyes off of the outside world to check the dials inside the cockpit, isn’t it?

It’s no surprise now the majority of today’s pilots fly with aircraft equipped with Augmented Reality (AR) displays. These are see-though displays that present critical information to pilots in real time, while still allowing sight of the outside world. They could be mounted in the pilot’s natural line of sight, or integrated into a pilot’s helmet – projecting information directly onto the inside of the visor. The key advantage of this technology is that it allows the pilot to keep their head-up and eyes-out of the cockpit; allowing them to see the outside world unfold in front of them, without losing sight of flight critical data – be it altitude, speed, or the direction of a potential threat.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that our site in Rochester, UK led the way in the development of this technology, before the term ‘AR’ meant anything to the mass market. Since developing the world’s first operational head-up display for WWII pilots over 60 years ago, we’ve produced more than 15,000 products for over 50 aircraft types around the world whilst continuing to push the boundaries of what’s physically possible in AR. For example, our Striker® II helmet-mounted display (HMD) is the most advanced of its kind and the only HMD to combine a full color display with integrated night vision. However, what was once technology exclusive to the skies has very quickly become something widely available in the commercial market.

There’s a big difference in what’s available commercially, compared to the technology produced by BAE Systems, and that’s all down to the end users and their reliance on the product. For example, struggling to see your phone’s display in bright sunlight is a mild inconvenience for most, however it’s a scenario that could prove fatal for the armed forces personnel relying on our AR products to complete a critical mission. It’s this type of situation that our customers will never have to be concerned about, let alone face. From the ground up, our display products are built to ensure they can operate in the most demanding of environments. It’s much more than just providing a convenient display, it’s about providing the peace of mind that these are products, from concept, designed with reliability and the end user’s safety at the heart of every decision. Our latest display innovation currently in development is AR glasses, a product we’re well positioned to develop in collaboration with other industry experts who want to bring this technology to everyday use.

Unlike anything commercially available, we push our technology to the absolute limit through ruthless environmental tests, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to fail during operation. Simulating extreme temperatures, humidity, rain, high attitude, and harsh g-forces are just a few of the tests our systems go through before being given the green light to enter the field. It’s this level of durability, paired with the unrivaled performance and brightness, which make our displays the most advanced in today’s market. We support those who find themselves in rapidly evolving situations, with a need to process vital information swiftly and respond accordingly with confidence. That’s why we believe no one is capable of providing a display with our level of performance.

When you think of Hollywood blockbusters like Robocop or Iron Man, it’s hard to look past the spectacular imagined technology that came with them. It’s easy to assume the AR that supported these fictional characters is in itself, just that – fictional. But, it’s already a reality. Something we’ve brought to life from our head-up and helmet-mounted displays supporting pilots globally, to the next generation of AR glasses currently in development. We’ll continually invest in display innovation, with the goal of providing superhero capability to our world’s real heroes.