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Augmented Reality (AR) is the latest hype in almost all industries. From medical to aviation, every industry is finding the use of AR in a special way. Since the year 2010, AR and its cousin Virtual Reality (VR), have attracted a lot of investments from the venture capitalists of different backgrounds. VR has been profoundly used in the field of entertainment whereas AR is totally focused on the manufacturing, maintenance, training, productivity, etc.
The acceptance of the latest enhancement seems to be a little far-fetched for almost every industry as the insurmountable barriers of new system integration, software, and hardware along with the employee training are a lot to ask. This scenario is changing in the aviation industry very rapidly. The revenue of the commercial airlines only roams around $750 Billion. You can now imagine how the amount will increase manifold when private. Military, corporate, hobbyist, and other sectors are added to this figure. The AR applications are not for the customers as of now but it will be used specifically for the aviation industry.
AR in aviation
The recent studies suggest a staggering number of pilot errors causing aviation accidents. The report says that 85% of the aviation mishaps are caused by the wrong decisions made by the pilots. The accidental incidents have reduced to a huge extent in commercial airline whereas it has increased by 20% for the personal flight segment.
It is not easy to point fingers at the humans controlling a beast in the air. Thousands of controls, surrounding the cockpits internally, have to be remembered before taking any decision. It is said that the pilots have the capability of taking ten decisions in a second. Anything can happen in split seconds. This is where the actual threat lies. The interior of a cockpit looks no less than a control room of an alien ship. To make this easier for the pilots and reduce the downtime for decision making, AR can be of great use. Boeing 737 alone has over hundreds of dials and switches in the cockpit, which can be quite overwhelming for the pilots.
As mentioned earlier, the pilots have to render a pile of information before even making a simple decision. It depicts how vast the margin of error can be. The AR applications will make the decisions time efficient and will help the pilots to avoid analysis paralysis. The 4th generation and superior fighter jets come with inbuilt heads Up Display (HUD) that has the capability of displaying critical navigational information, targeting, flight, and other mission-related information. Consider this, if the pilot has to look down every time to check the instruments in the middle of a heated battle or any simulation, a lot of things can happen. The 5th generation F-35 Lightning 2 fighters has taken a step further by providing the best-in-class AR package with complete 360-degree awareness capabilities. It also has a see-through ability that enables the pilots to maintain a connection between AR and actual reality.
Virtual Reality in aircraft maintenance
Imagine what chaos a single loose nut can do in an aircraft. Be it a jet fighter or a commercial plane, the maintenance program should be appropriately executed so as to keep the lives safe onboard. The implementation of VR for the mechanics, technicians, and other personnel related to aviation maintenance will reduce the time for maintenance to a huge extent. The maintenance personnel has to consult the manuals all the time before executing a decision. The VR platform will enable the personnel to find out what to do without even opening the manuals again.
In this aspect, GE Aviation found an excellent platform that can be further streamlined to create an efficient platform for the aircraft maintenance service. The brand has found that the efficiency of the process can be literally enhanced by 12%. The GE Aviation Engineering Manager, Ted Robertson said that he can easily overhaul an engine in 10% less time. The accumulated time saved by all the engineers linked in the same process will be humongous. Like the overhauling part, any process related to the maintenance of the planes will be well-benefitted with the implementation of AR platform.
The step-by-step visual guidance will enhance the understanding of the personnel and guide him to perform the task properly. The identification of the parts will become a lot easier with the aid of smart phones, tablets, headsets, and smart glasses. The assembly of the parts will be identified quickly enough. The complication of these assemblies will be solved offering a transparent platform to the technician to do his job. On the other hand, the focus of the technician will be undivided. The instructions will be displayed on the line of sight of the worker. In fact, the workers will be connected by a seamless communication channel with the supervisors or remote experts via the VR platform.
Benefits of AR in aircraft manufacturing
The live feeds, the line of sight instructions, constant communication with supervisors, etc accelerates the productivity of the floor also. The workers, who are designated with certain responsibilities and a tablet, have found a significant improvement of 90% in the quality of execution. The engineers have accelerated the speed of assembling parts of the aircraft by 30%. It means within the same time, a team can assemble 1.3 times the normal speed.
In the same context, the workers in Boeing have shown a significant development while using smart glasses. The technicians used the smart glasses to cut fine wires with the aid of smart glasses and the production time increased by 25%. It is very clear how the application of VR, AR, and Mixed Reality can enhance the degree of production in the manufacturing of airplanes.
VR in aviation training
Aviation training is a part that can be revolutionized with the present technologies we are having. The maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) segment of the aviation industry can be well-benefitted. The personnel working in this segment will be perfectly trained with the use of VR platforms. The process of training and then licensing a trained official almost takes 8 years in the USA. The time span may vary in other countries. Imagine how the process can be hastened with the use of VR platforms where the trainees will find a virtually real view of the machine parts, flying simulations, etc without waiting for the physical access to the machines. Apart from the hands-on experience, the implementation of VR, AR, and Mixed Reality can create a perfect replica of the parts used in the aircrafts. For an instance, an aspiring pilot can easily find himself in a proper simulation of flying an aircraft sitting in a cockpit. The gestures will allow the users to control the virtual parts and learn a lot about the intricate designs of the machines.
As mentioned earlier, the HUDs used in the 4th generation and above fighters are an excellent example. The training will be easier. The pilots will be able to maintain a profound awareness of the surrounding. In fact, as automation is ragingly taking over the aviation industry, it will enable the pilots to learn and coordinate with such systems. The simulations designed with respect to particular events will enable the pilots to become tactful beforehand. This stands true for all the aviation engineers, ground staff, experts, and all other related personnel too.
The flight simulation will enable the pilots to cope with the situations by using AR platforms during the training period. Even the new protocols can be implemented a lot faster when an AR platform can aid the trainees to visualize the concept.
Astounding benefits of using AR in avionics
The leading firms, DHL to General Motors, are now investing their resources for the development of AR platforms. GE has combined three different technologies which are smart glass, Wi-Fi enabled torque wrench for B-nuts (developed by Upskill), and Skylight, to prepare an AR platform for the maintenance engineers for the proper installation of B-nuts. The real-time mechanics measurement revealed 65% of the engineers prefer the new method. Airbus has used the VR technique to inspect brackets of the Airbus A380 model. The estimated time of three weeks reduced to three days. The AR avionics will become more and more efficient. The R&D will prepare the flight way before time reducing downtime. The manufacturing, as well as, maintenance will become easier and accurate. The risk in air traffic control, takeoffs, landings, taxiing, etc will be considerably reduced. Very soon, the reality will become an augmented reality in the aviation industry.