Building a Bespoke Heads-Up display for “The Real Life Ironman”
Some of you may have read the interview with Richard Browning last year in DesignSpark where he described the first steps in building a bespoke heads-up display for his jet-powered flying suit. Since then the team at The Imagination Factory has worked on several iterations of the design including the physical parts fitted to his helmet and the software that drives the display.
In this article, we would like to share some more details about this project as it has been fascinating to work on and might interest some of you in the community.
Richard Browning and the Gravity Industries Jet Suit
The Design Challenge
When Richard first approached The Imagination Factory it was because he saw that we had been working with a holographic Augmented Reality display that Sony produces. He was looking for something to help him see data on his fuel consumption and flight time in his eyeline.
The jet suit he has built is an incredible achievement and is true to the pioneering spirit of flight because of its reliance on the skill of the pilot as much as technology. Due to the enormous thrust needed to lift Richard and everything he is carrying off the ground fuel is consumed at a very fast rate. So being able to visualise fuel consumption could help him fly longer safely.
With each flight, Richard learns more about the capabilities of the suit and makes iterations to its performance and design so every extra minute in the air really counts.
Similar to sports like flying wingsuits there is an unusual combination of speed, height and the absence of any structure around him. This means he must wear a decent, lightweight helmet and cannot rely on things like safety belts or neck restraints to absorb any impact. The preferred helmet at the moment is the Caberg Ghost because of its good fit, safety credentials and an aesthetic that fits with Richard’s ambitions. Existing AR helmet solutions could provide much more information than the Sony solution but were too heavy or lacking in sufficient safety ratings to provide confidence.
The Solution - Hardware
So, the design team began with the brief to fit the Sony AR technology into the preferred helmet in a way that did not compromise the performance of either.
The first requirement that was identified was to modify the pivot of the visor to allow it to pull forward before raising up. Without doing this the AR glasses would clash with the rim of the helmet.
After disassembling the components of the visor mount we were able to redesign one of the internal components to guide the visor away and up in one smooth action. Several iterations of the design were needed before the optimal shape for the track that guides this action was found. An Ultimaker 3d printer was used in our studio to check each iteration until it was time to make the final parts. These were made using a process called SLS which produces robust, accurate parts by sintering Nylon powder. Nylon is also a good material for sliding tracks so this was the obvious choice and worked extremely well.
In parallel with this design work the Sony AR glasses (known as SmartEyeglass) were being fitted to the inside of the visor. The glasses can be purchased in the form of a developer kit which was the most cost-effective way to achieve something quickly for Richard and to provide a platform for on-going development of the software that would link the display to the data coming from the control board on the jet suit.
To achieve this a portion of the SmartEyeglass casework was disassembled and redesigned so that it matched the inner curve of the visor with some mounting points. Fortunately, it was possible to use some existing mounting points in the visor and still align the glasses so that the display is in Richard’s field of view.
The parts were again made by SLS but this time were dyed black to match the casework.
Modified SmartEyeglass developer kit
The Solution - Software
The SmartEyeglass developer kit has been designed so that you can interact with it via an Android App. We needed to create an App that would connect to a WiFi datastream from the jet suit control board, parse the useful data and display this on the glasses according to a User Interface of our own design. The Sony holographic display is 8 bit monochrome (green) with a 419 x 128 resolution. So, it’s very limited in what it can display which meant the design team had to work hard to make sure data is displayed clearly and without ambiguity.
As expected it took many iterations over a few months to get this working well. There were lots of challenges with connecting to the WiFi datastream coming from the suit and then displaying the data in a way that was useful to Richard without being distracting. In the end, a much simpler User Interface than was originally anticipated was used.
During development, it also occurred to us that the GPS data from the Android phone that Richard keeps in a pocket could be displayed on the glasses. So, with this feature added the heads-up display now shows fuel consumption, flight time and speed.
The phone also datalogs the entire datastream coming from the engine control board which can be analysed post-flight.
Early concepts for the Android App and HUD design
This project continues to be a work in progress alongside the other incredible developments Richard is making to his suit (including 3D printed parts in Titanium). Eventually, we hope to shift from using the developer kit to an embedded solution which Sony has made possible by making the holographic display available to purchase as a module.
In the meantime, there will be other iterations based on the developer kit including a hacked version that converts the existing binocular solution to a monocular one. This will reduce the obstruction caused by the frame of the developer kit giving Richard the data he needs with minimal visual interference.
The embedded version of the heads-up display is a large undertaking but will build on the work that The Imagination Factory is already doing on an internal project called SwimAR. This is a heads-up display for triathletes and swimmers mounted to a regular pair of goggles. You can find out more about SwimAR here – www.swimar.co.uk
You can find out more about The Imagination Factory here.