Visual-gravitoinertial interactions for altitude perception during manual and supervisory control

Publication Date


Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

77th Annual Vertical Flight Society Forum and Technology Display, FORUM 2021: The Future of Vertical Flight




Future vertical lift (FVL) missions will be characterized by increased agility, degraded visual environments (DVE) and optionally piloted vehicles (OPVs). Increased agility will induce more frequent variations of linear and angular accelerations, while DVE will reduce the structure and quality of the out-the-window (OTW) scene. As rotorcrafts become faster and more agile, pilots are expected to navigate at low altitudes while traveling at high speeds. In nap of the earth (NOE) flights, the perception of self-position and orientation provided by visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive cues can vary from moment to moment due to visibility conditions and body alignment as a response to gravitoinertial forces and internally/externally induced perturbations. As a result, erroneous perceptions of the self and the environment can arise, leading ultimately to spatial disorientation (SD). In OPVs conditions, the use of different autopilot modes implies a modification of pilot role from active pilot to systems supervisor. This shift in paradigm, where pilotage is not the primary task, and where feedback from the controls is not available, has consequences. Indeed, space perception and its geometric properties can be strongly modulated by the active or passive nature of the displacement in space. In view of the link between the level of automation and Sense of Agency (SoA), it is of particular interest to examine whether agency mechanisms can modulate the level of visuo-vestibular integration in tasks of action perception and control. An experiment was conducted using the NASA Ames vertical motion simulator (VMS) to evaluate the effects of optical and gravitoinertial cues in the assessment of altitude in contour terrain flight. Seven U.S. Army pilots participated in the experiment. The aim of the proposed research was a) to establish the relative contribution of visual and gravitoinertial cues as a function of the quality of the visual cues (good vs. degraded), and the presence or absence of gravitoinertial cues, b) to determine the role of manual control vs. supervisory monitoring control on the estimation of altitude, and c) study the interactions between the nature and the quality of the sensory cues and the type of control. For the supervisory control condition, the results showed that the gravitoinertial component played a significant role in the estimation of ground height, but only in the case where the optical structure did not efficiently specify the actor-environment interaction. The improvement of the tracking performance in the visuo-vestibular setting as compared to a visual only setting when the visual cues were poor indicates some level of multisensory integration. Preliminary results for the manual control condition suggest the gravitoinertial cues contribute to an increased safety margin in presence of obstacles, particularly in DVE. Altitude accuracy and precision will then be compared for the manual and supervisory control tasks and discussed in the context of the Sense of Agency theory.


Biological Sciences; Research Foundation