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UND, Rockwell Collins show off virtual technologies

With technology advancing almost daily, UND is doing its best to stay ahead of the curve. Representatives from Rockwell Collins, an Iowa company that provides avionics and information technology systems, were at UND Thursday for a collaboration w...

Alex Postnikov, an engineer with Rockwell Collins, discusses the Virtual Avionics Procedures Trainer that the aviation company donated to UND during a collaborative workshop Thursday at Ryan Hall. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Alex Postnikov, an engineer with Rockwell Collins, discusses the Virtual Avionics Procedures Trainer that the aviation company donated to UND during a collaborative workshop Thursday at Ryan Hall. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

With technology advancing almost daily, UND is doing its best to stay ahead of the curve.

Representatives from Rockwell Collins, an Iowa company that provides avionics and information technology systems, were at UND Thursday for a collaboration workshop where they demonstrated two virtual technologies that can change the way students at UND learn.

The workshop showcased a recently donated virtual avionics procedures trainer, which is estimated to cost about $400,000, and virtual reality goggles students can use to learn how to work a technical job, such as a maintenance technician on a plane, virtually.

"A lot of times when you marry university and industry together in a research endeavor, you can do some really cool things," said Nicholas Wilson, an assistant professor of aviation at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

With the recently donated virtual avionics procedures trainer, a student works inside a virtual plane's cockpit. The virtual simulator includes commercial, off-the-shelf technology and standard, touch-screen computer monitors, along with actual avionics software, which mimics a plane's cockpit.

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With the simulator, a student can learn where all of the knobs, levers and buttons are inside the plane without having to train in an actual plane, which cuts costs.

The machine also includes malfunctions where student pilots are faced with problems that might occur during flight. The hope is students can learn what to do in tough situations while they're on the ground instead of up in the air, said Paul Heyd, principal program manager at Rockwell Collins who was in Grand Forks to demonstrate the simulator.

"Think of Sully when he landed in the Hudson River," he said. "Wouldn't it have been nice if he practiced that on the ground first before something like that happened? This allows users to do that safely and in a low-cost environment."

Simulators such as this one are common practice in the aerospace industry to train pilots, Wilson said.

"In aerospace, it's very, very common to be doing a lot of training before reaching an aircraft because it's very expensive to train in the actual aircraft or expensive to have an error," he said. "You want to make sure people are very proficient in their job. You don't want them guessing when they're flying or doing maintenance on an aircraft."

Representatives from Rockwell Collins also demonstrated virtually reality goggles, which allowed students to replace parts to a malfunctioning plane.

Using technologies, such as those demonstrated Thursday, helps students because they can become familiar with the latest advancements, which makes them more likely to land a job in their desired field after they graduate, Wilson said.

On hand were UND faculty from a number of departments, including aviation, unmanned aerial systems, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science and psychology.

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UND Aerospace staffer Neil Nowatski checks out a virtual reality maintenance trainer at Robin Hall while Kirk Thorson of Rockwell Collins looks on Thursday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
UND Aerospace staffer Neil Nowatski checks out a virtual reality maintenance trainer at Robin Hall while Kirk Thorson of Rockwell Collins looks on Thursday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

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