Virtual air race

Stunt pilots have raced against computer-generated opponents in a contest that combined the real world with a virtual one.



Using technology developed, in part, by a Nottingham University spin-out company, an air race in the skies above Spain saw two stunt pilots battle it out with a ‘virtual’ plane, which they watched on screens in their cockpits.



The ‘virtual’ aircraft was piloted by a computer-gamer who never left the ground, but could see the relative location of the real planes on his own computer screens as the trio swooped around each other during the so-called ‘Sky Challenge’ race, the brainchild of Air Sports, a New Zealand company that specialises in deploying technology to make exciting sports events more accessible.



The technology that made it all possible was supplied by the Geospatial Research Centre (GRC), a joint venture between Nottingham University, the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and Canterbury Development Corporation.



Dr David Park, a Nottingham University graduate and chief executive officer of GRC, said: ‘We’ve been involved with the development of Sky Challenge since July 2007. Our role has been to develop a technology that provides the position and orientation of the aircraft using global positioning systems (GPS) and inertial navigation systems (INS).



‘The INS constantly tracks the position and orientation of the aircraft, while GPS signals are used to correct the INS errors – although getting a GPS signal is not always easy as the aircraft twists and turns through the sky.’



The result of the Sky Challenge was a narrow victory for one of the real pilots – but he was only 1.5 seconds ahead of his virtual rival.



GRC has been developing the positioning and orientation system, which it calls POINT-RT, for fast-moving and highly-dynamic air sports, and is now looking forward to realising commercial opportunities for it in 2009.



Other potential applications of the POINT-RT hardware and software being developed by the company include tracking people in buildings via shoe-based sensors, geo-referencing video-mapping systems in cars, and real-time thermal mapping from aircraft.