Are you situationally aware?

Part of my trip through geekdom lead me to Microsoft Flight Simulator. I’ve dreamed of becoming a pilot but never had the resources or eyes to do it for real. FS gave me a chance to play and get some sense of what flying is like, mind you without the inner ear working for you, it’s certainly nowhere near the same.

Part of the thrill of FS for us geeks is the ability to add your own plug-ins to implement your own instrument gauges and your own airplanes. The gauge SDK was particularly interesting to me and lead me to ponder whether one could create a reasonable flight navigation system with maps and data, much like is common place with modern GPS systems. I think I had enough info to pull it off, but of course, never got the time to do it.

That investigation did help me cross paths with Garmin. They are the leaders in flight navigation systems for general aviation aircraft. They have some pretty sophisticated software and some pretty solid hardware to make it easy to navigate an aircraft through the airways. And they keep getting better, going from simple textual lcd screens, to two dimensional graphical displays showing maps in 2D. And the displays kept getting bigger and contained more and more information to help a pilot with his situation awareness, a key to survival in the cockpit.

And now, they’ve added 3D display of the terrain and obstacles and other aircraft in your vicinity. Here’s a video of a reporter talking to a Garmin rep. It’s like the world coming full circle. Instead of trying to figure out how to make a video game more real, they’re trying to make reality more like a video game! The reporter asked the right question, aren’t pilots going to be more interested in watching this wicked cool technology than look out the airplane like they’re supposed to? I know I would.

Anyway, I hope this is the leading edge of what we’ll soon see in embedded devices where it makes sense, i.e., more use of 3D graphics. I think it really helps the user experience be more real. We’re seeing it already with Mac and Vista. And with announcements like Nvidia’s Tegra and seeing what the Garmin has done with their system, I can see it useful for devices as well.

BTW, speaking of the FS SDK, when I mentioned OSGi for C++ the other day, that SDK came to mind and is a great example of how to build a simple component model with interfaces for providing services into a common framework. There are certainly other examples and makes me think standardizing on one at least similar to OSGi, might really be a good idea. More on that later…