Innovation may sometimes seem like a flash of inspiration, however, in the vast majority of cases innovation is being bold enough to learn from failures, and is achieved by those determined enough to iterate with the end goal in mind.

SPACE at NATS provides an environment in which we explore new concepts and technologies to understand the opportunities and benefits where technological advances can bring to Air Traffic Management (ATM). For us one of the key goals is to develop better decision-making capabilities based on better user situational awareness.

For example we have recently explored the potential of presenting ATM information in more engaging and immersive ways. Several platforms have been investigated and SPACE has developed three prototype applications with Google Glass to assess the capability of this technology and the potential in AR (Augmented Reality) technology.

What was the problem we were trying to solve by using this technology? We wanted to find ways in which we could increase engagement with the non-ATM community, rather than just expecting stakeholders to interpret a 200 page report. “A picture tells a thousand words”, and we knew that if we were able to show the camera angles clearly we would be able to more easily illustrate air traffic control.

We developed a tool in collaboration with ALTRAN using the Unity gaming engine, agile software development and User Centred Design techniques, which, in simplistic terms, puts the user at the heart of the design. As a result of using this technology we were able to provide an extensive immersive experience for users that allowed them to explore aircraft interactions in 4D. This is especially useful for those who are not air traffic control specialists as it really brings to life the complexity of our airspace and the excellent job that our Air Traffic Controllers do on a regular basis.

Current AR technology, such as Google Glass, is not yet mature enough for the particular uses we have in mind. However, development in this area remains of interest to NATS as exploring evolving technologies is a valuable learning experience.  For example, VR technology, particularly Oculus Rift, has shown us a number of potential uses and we are continuing to experiment with them.

….when we are trying to solve new problems, in business or technology, we need to reach beyond our current expertise. We do not want to know how to apply the rules; we want to break the rules. We do that by failing – and learning.  ‘Dyson- Black Box Thinking


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