It helps reduce the time spent switching between instruction manuals and applying technique.
NASA Spacecraft are unique in that most of them are built for only one mission. “Just about every time, we are building something for the first time,” says Brian O’Connor, the vice president of production operations at Lockheed Martin Space. So engineers that are working on spacecraft always end up having to learn something new. As far as the organization is concerned – the more you speed up the learning process the better. Especially considering how often projects are delayed.
Recently aerospace corporations Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin started to experiment with the use of Augmented Reality to visualize assembly instructions real-time, however, only Lockheed had progressed beyond the testing phase.
Derek Jory Spacecraft technicician at NASA now wears the Microsoft Hololens for about three hours to prepare himself for drilling later in the day. That’s about as long as you can wear the headset before it starts to become uncomfortably heavy. They’re currently using it to learn how to assemble parts in a more suiting visual format and to “check the instructions” every 15 minutes
Holograms display technical models of the spacecraft scripted by engineering design software company Scope AR. Using this interface engineers can more easily transition from direction to application – visualizing the next step to assembly overlaid on top of the relevant area of interest. Virtual labels guide the engineer along different stages of the task.
For example, instructions on how to screw a part in to place are displayed directly above where you’re supposed to perform the task, cutting out all the extra time required to go back and forth between an instruction manual. In Derek Jorys case the technology replaces a 1500 page binder full of complex technical diagrams. Aside from that the system is entirely co-operative, marking all relevant material with the engineers color specific label.
After Lockheed-Martin noticed a significant improvement in the time it took engineers to learn something new they began contemplating how it could be used in the maintenance of space-craft as well. “What we want astronauts to be able to do is have maintenance capability that’s much more intuitive than going through text or drawing content,” says Shelley Peterson, Lockheed Martin’s head of emerging technologies.
Before astronauts can start using augmented reality they need to improve headset wearability and ease of use, which is especially vital under micro-gravity conditions. “If you were to look five years down the road, I don’t think you will find an efficient manufacturing operation that doesn’t have this type of augmented reality to assist the operators,” says Brian O’Connor, the vice president of production operations at Lockheed Martin Space.