An innovation platform for improving human performance under extreme conditions in military aerospace - that is Aeolus, set up as an open platform by the Royal Netherlands Air Force and TNO in Soesterberg, for knowledge institutes, businesses, and end-users. By pooling their numerous, world-class facilities and multidisciplinary knowledge, the partners involved are able to get their innovations to operational end-users more quickly.
“Technological advances in platforms of the air force, such as the F-35 (JSF), are moving at a very rapid pace and the challenge we face is to keep up with that,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Ted Meeuwsen of the Center for Man in Aviation of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. “Compared to the F-16, the pilot in the F-35 receives much more information on which he has to make decisions – assisted by technology, true, but still under physically extreme conditions such as high G forces. Pilots are selected and trained on this basis, but the challenges in dealing with these conditions are greater and are changing as a result of technological progress.”
“We have to ensure that people are well trained both cognitively and physically, and that they are given the right preparation for operating with the latest technologies and for being able to deal with extreme conditions”
“You can resolve this in part by making technology and systems smarter, so that they provide better support for anyone performing in extreme conditions,” explains TNO’s Paul Vierveijzer. “At the same time, you have to make sure that people are well trained both cognitively and physically, and that they are given the right preparation for operating with the latest technologies and for being able to deal with extreme conditions. Thanks to Aeolus, we are able to get everyone on board who has a role to play in the development and testing of aircrew flight equipment and training resources – subject-matter experts, industry and end-users.”
Flight sensing suit
Among the innovations the partners are working on is that of the helmet of the F-35. Meeuwsen: “Without a helmet, you cannot control the aircraft. It is packed with technology and is an essential part of the weapon system. New technologies are being developed in order to keep on top of the increasing quantities of information that pilots receive visually and aurally. A second example is that of operation-oriented simulation and training, in which we aim to provide as many stressors from the operational environment we can in the simulation environment, as accurately as possible. Because pilots can encounter decreased oxygen levels (hypoxia) while flying and can become disoriented, we have added hypoxia training to the disorientation (motion) simulator in 2018. This is a first-off and unique in the world.”
“To give pilots more control over their own well-being, we are developing a flight sensing suit, in partnership with Holst Centre”
A third example is that of the flight sensing suit. Vierveijzer: “Lots of data are available to pilots about how their aircrafts are performing, but there is no information about their own performance. In other words, no measurements are carried out ‘on’ pilots themselves. To give pilots more control over their own well-being, we are developing a flight sensing suit, in partnership with Holst Centre: we integrate sensors in the current pilot’s undershirt, and continuously monitor their physiological condition and provide them with feedback about their well-being.”
Aircrew Readiness Centre
“Unexplained physiological events are currently among the most important topics in military aviation,” adds Meeuwsen. “There are various types of aircraft in which pilots indicate that they are not feeling well. On one occasion they may receive feedback that their symptoms are recognized as a result of a lack of oxygen, while on another it could be that they are disoriented. There is no proper measuring system that states what exactly the matter is, and consequently this could affect the pilot’s performance. Is the pilot dehydrated, does he have a cold, or is something wrong with the oxygen system? With Aeolus, we are working on new innovations in order to solve these problems to improve pilot performance.”
“By providing access to TNO and the air force’s expertise and high-level technical test facilities, we are helping the continued development of products for the Dutch and international markets”
As well as joint research and product innovation, Aeolus can also play an important part in the development of the aircrew readiness centre concept. For the F-35, this will be established in Soesterberg with facilities for pilot fitting – that is, the measuring up of the flight safety equipment including helmet, mask, and G trousers – for testing and human factors training, and for innovation. Meeuwsen: “Instead of always sending pilots to the relevant industry for any necessary adjustments, we can organize dynamic tests if the pilots are already on site anyway for training purposes. By linking innovation to this effectively, we can speed up the whole process of trying on, measuring up, training, testing and adjusting, and we will then really be able to accelerate the innovation cycle. This acts as a great motivator and is a win-win situation for everyone.”
The challenge when setting up Aeolus was that it has a domain orientation, and not a specific technology-oriented approach. Vierveijzer: “The uniqueness of Aeolus is that it is not aimed at the development of a single technology, but at speeding up the innovation cycle on human performance in the aerospace domain. Research is aimed at the applications of various technologies that can assist human performance in extreme conditions.” This made it challenging to involve partners and to convince them to take part, since most of them are focussing on specific technologies.
“We actively invite knowledge institutes and companies large and small that operating in the field of human performance under extreme conditions, as well as those active in the areas of virtual and augmented reality, and measuring human performance,” says Vierveijzer. “By providing access to TNO and the air force’s expertise and high-level technical test facilities, we are helping the continued development of products for the Dutch and international markets.” Meeuwsen: “The Netherlands is among the world’s leaders when it comes to the human factors domain. This means that we have the opportunity to make real progress here in Soesterberg, especially with the help of TNO and its expertise in this area.”
Orchestrating Innovation: getting innovations to market more quickly
Innovation projects, like the setting up of the Aeolus open innovation platform, are complex processes that have a long period of incubation and require collaboration. Finding the right approach, partners and joint path towards a successful innovation is a skill in itself. TNO specializes in bringing parties together and in activating innovation and technology experts. We refer to this approach as ‘orchestrating innovation’. In order to make Aeolus a success, TNO sought to identify the incentives that would persuade partners to join the platform, including access to the high-level technical test facilities and the expertise of TNO and other involved partners.
Would you like to know more?
Is your organization involved in the field of human performance in extreme conditions? And are you interested in a collaborative partnership? If so, please contact Paul Vierveijzer.