So, with early adoption and various use cases testing the productivity gains within the enterprise, how has Augmented Reality impacted the aerospace shop floor, and what technologies are necessary for its adoption to accelerate?
Industry giants like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Applied Materials have invested in the development of both AR hardware and software solutions and have side projects and secretive labs dabbling with head-mounted wearables, light projections, telepresence or remote assist and SDKs to improve costs, time of task and error reductions on the shop-floor. The good news is that AR hardware and software are improving at a tremendous rate with the help of these use cases and investments. The capability of smart-glasses, smartphones and tablets are making astonishing strides in computational, graphical and sensory power with clearer, higher resolution displays and improvements to battery life enabling easier ways to consume and create AR and VR content. Some limiting factors that developers are dealing with is the amount of available memory and battery power on portable devices. Network latency also requires careful consideration when system architecture dictates whether this content should be stored on the device or a remote content server.
The future of Augmented Reality (AR) in the Enterprise however is a bit clearer today as the result of the recent DMDII/AREA Requirements Workshop in Chicago. At first glance, the two-day event promised to be a worthwhile exchange among parties with shared interests. On one side was the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), which had invested considerable time and effort into creating a detailed set of requirements for enterprise AR with the assistance of American industry heavyweights Lockheed Martin, Procter & Gamble, and Caterpillar. On the other side was the AREA, the organization leading global efforts to drive adoption of AR in the enterprise. The AREA is to take over responsibility for the requirements document and its future.
But when the parties gathered in Chicago in the beginning of March, the event proved to be more significant than anyone could have expected. Here’s why:
- It demonstrated the burgeoning interest in enterprise AR throughout the developing ecosystem. The event attracted 90 attendees from 45 companies – all deeply committed to AR and eager to share their thoughts with one another.
- It provided an unprecedented opportunity for AR hardware and software providers to engage directly with enterprise AR users. With the detailed requirements to refer to, participants were able to engage with each other substantively and specifically.
- It signified the beginning of a global effort to make the process of implementing AR projects simpler and more orderly. With a set of requirements that will grow, become more defined and use case-specific over time under the aegis of the AREA, enterprises will have the power to define their AR solution needs clearly and confidently. Our goal at the AREA is to make the requirements accessible and usable to the wider AR ecosystem.
- It gives AR solutions providers a vital resource for developing their product development roadmaps. The direct feedback of the user community made it clear to hardware and software providers where they need to invest their R&D budgets in the near and medium term.
- It created the basis for a more open, vibrant, and participatory AR ecosystem. As the AREA makes the requirements a “living document” to which all organizations can contribute, they will become an increasingly useful resource to a wider range of organizations and will accelerate the adoption of successful AR projects in the enterprise.
- Many aerospace component manufacturers will soon be mandated to adopt XML and S1000D publishing standards for all of their various component or airframe maintenance manuals in order to not only comply with airframer requirements but to exploit the re-usability properties of the markup language for content re-use. Aircraft maintenance technicians must obtain new levels of job skill and knowledge to effectively work with modern computer-based avionics and advanced composite materials. Traditional methods of training, such as on-the-job training, may not have potential to fulfill the training requirements to meet the future needs of aviation maintenance. With a standardized, XML-based (or ARML 2.0), now aircraft maintenance technicians are getting even closer to an augmented training environment. An AR system coupled with the reusable properties of XML could enable job task training and job task guidance for the novice technician in a real world environment. It could reduce the cost of training and retraining of aircraft maintenance technicians by contemplating human information processing and assisting with performance of job tasks. Considering that these “live” industry standards and requirements for Augmented Reality content creation (software / hardware) have commenced in the space, enterprise now has a framework in which to govern these new tools, their usage and a way to work in parallel with their specific, industry compliance and regulatory structure. Organizations like AREA (Augmented Reality Enterprise Alliance) are working with industry leaders and executives to formalize and standardize the AR implementation process. Content creation, privacy, protection of intellectual property and industry applicability are all items at the top of the list for groups like AREA and their enterprise counterparts to consider when trying to create a baseline of governance to AR creation and usage.
- In order to deploy new technologies, all industry needs to build strong business cases to get upper management to approve budgets and prove that these new tools will provide a significant return on investment, improve the manufacturing process, and improve safety on the shop floor. Aerospace manufacturers need to keep their technicians on-task and keep them “ship-side”. As soon as the technician has to leave his or her work space to retrieve a part or refer to a colleague for advice or assistance, productivity is lost. AR tools can significantly reduce the time to complete tasks and can provide remote assistance that keep the technician in his or her workspace longer and promotes better efficiency. However, there are still parts of the puzzle like tracking and visualization that need some more development and only with properly initiated use cases will aerospace enterprise be able to reap the benefits of this emerging technology.