Keeping on track

Novice military pilots can learn to improve their visual response to an emergency by tracking the eye movements of more experienced aviators


Research shows that novice pilots can improve their visual scanning techniques by observing the eye movements of experts.

A study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience has examined the effect of studying expert eye movements on the ability of novice pilots to visually respond to a simulated emergency procedure.

Dr Wayne Riley, of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, explained that the study could pave the way for a new type of eye-movement based training for aviators.

"We discovered that when novice pilots learn how to move their eyes by watching the eye movements of expert pilots via eye tracking technology, they rapidly improve their visual scanning strategies in the cockpit, even without explicit instructions,” he elaborated.

Research has found that differences in eye movements between expert and novice pilots are so pronounced that computers can use an eye-tracking algorithm to accurately classify them more than 80% of the time.

The study involved a group of novice pilots watching a video where an expert pilot solved a complicated emergency situation.

Another group watched the same video, but with an illustration of the experienced pilot’s eye movements using a dot moving around the screen to indicate eye position.

The group were not given information about what the dot was or how to use it.

When tested, only the second group had acquired expert eye movements.

Image credit: US Air Force/Joe McFadden