UVU Computer Engineering Capstone Project

Haptics in Aviation (2019-2020)

Project Sponsor: NSF LEAP Program
Team Members: Joshua Needley and Nile Brewer

Faulty Advisor: Dr. Afsaneh Minaie

  • Nile learning to hang glide, photo by Jessica Williamson
  • Nile flying a competition hang gliders, photo by Ryan Voight
  • ESP8266 NodeMCU CP2102 ESP-12E, photo by Brewer & Neeley
  • troubleshooting after the flight, photo by Brewer
  • testing the new prototype, photo by Brewer of Neeley at UVU

Francis Ragallo of NASA invented the first hang glider in 1948 [1] as a form of recovery for space capsules. It took another ~fourteen years for it to turn into a form of recreation. In the early days every hang glider was built by hand, engineers would take trips to hardware stores to perfect their designs; yes, a hardware store! Pilots who were lucky enough to survive that era were met with a much more advanced market, they would receive their hang gliders in the mail and would use their personal hand tools to put them together in the garage. These stories are very scary for the pilots today. In current time, pilots buy their hang gliders or paragliders from manufacturers that go through very rigorous testing, doing everything in their power to prevent mechanical failures. Indeed, this is a time when accidents are mostly attributed to pilot error.

Man has dreamed of flight since they were smart enough to paint on walls and probably before that. This form of recreation is called “free flight”. Pilots harness the wind in the same way the birds do, flying to great heights. They circle in the wind all the way to cloud base. The sky scape at cloud base is an extraordinary and privileged view. With a gaggle (group of pilots) full of engineers, doctors, lawyers and a few cowboys… they are both skilled and daring to put it lightly. Contrary to popular belief, these pilots often have flights that exceed 100 miles with durations upwards of 6 hours.

Birds find rising air through touch as wind pushes on their feathers. Hang glider and paraglider pilots don’t have this feedback system. There are complex instruments to aid pilots in finding lift to extend the duration of their flights. These systems are old and outdate. Not only do they create noise pollution that detracts from the beauty of free flight, they also ignore the needs of those who require adaptive equipment, including those who are hearing impaired. There are adaptive programs for skiing, swimming and several other sports. Recently, equipment for adaptive flying has been introduced and this product hopes to contribute to that community.

As technology progresses, it presents us with new problems. The sensation of touch disappears as tools are built to do our jobs for us. When 4-wheelers added power steering, the riders had a hard time steering due to the lack of feedback. The field of haptic technology adds the sensation of touch back into these devices so one can interact as if the technology isn’t there. Haptics will soon change the way that humans interact with a large part of the environment. Advances in this technology are pushing into the medical field, virtual reality, sports, and more. Haptics in Aviation aims to bring it into the field of free flight. This will enable pilots to sense the environment around them so that flight can feel natural. 

[1] Patent US2546078A

Students' Presentation