The very real benefits of virtual reality

The mission of our ProtoSpace Department is simple – go out and find technologies and people that can transform the way we work. Some of the most promising technologies can be found with virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

At Airbus, we’ve already designed and deployed VR software tools throughout the aircraft design process. Taking advantage of CAD data, engineers can use VR to see, interact and adjust 3D digital models – getting virtually hands-on while literally hands off. The value it brings is huge as we can simulate and reproduce costly, complex or dangerous situations in a safe and normalised environment.

On the digital shopfloor, augmented reality lets us project data, information, and detail from the designs to help with construction and inspection processes. Engineers use a hand-held device that displays the 3D model on top of the real aircraft, providing invaluable insight into size and positioning. Sensors track the environment and user movements, and send video feeds to view the digital and physical structure combined.

This approach saves significant time. The inspection time of 60,000 brackets used on an Airbus A380 fuselage, for instance, has now dropped from three weeks to just three days.

In the last decade VR technologies have become more mobile, affordable and easier to use than ever, freeing up potential to completely transform many areas of our activities. To harness this potential, ProtoSpace is taking a lead – in collaboration with other teams across the company – in developing global adoption and innovation programs with over 75 different use cases identified to date.

For example by providing inclusive access to the A/C data, and the VR means to exploit it, we have transformed the way people interact with our data. Very soon, any Airbus employee will be able to access aircraft digital data and use Rift or Vive to pull out a 3D digital model, and view it from any angle to quickly review space accessibility; maintenance processes or simply test a new design.

The benefits are being seen across the company. Marketing, for example, is testing a holographic application, combining a physical and virtual cabin to configure and customise cabin space in real time. And internally, we are using these technologies to better share information for instance in training, by delivering complex technical lessons to a group through interactive, shared 3D; or even provide training by a holographic coach through an initiative being developed at our leadership university.

These technologies are mapping out an exciting journey for us. ProtoSpace teams are forming strategic partnerships to have access to pre-market VR, AR & MR technologies. This means we’ll be in a position to accelerate company use of the tech once it hits mainstream adoption. These booster projects focus on technology and competence acquisition – for example the Airbus partnership with Microsoft or the ongoing work with Singularity University – to understand capabilities and foster implementation.

We believe VR, AR and MR can bring significant value across our business and we are now working to absorb these changes by identifying, accelerating and implementing most promising applications and democratising the technology. Interested? Join our cause!