Augmented, or mixed reality technologies let users see the objects actually before them, along with virtual images, instructions, notes and other data that may help them. The tools are being developed rapidly and are seen a possibly of great use in aircraft maintenance in two basic ways.
First, augmented reality could be used to train mechanics as they work on real components with instructors showing virtual images that aid in training. Second, mechanics working on repair challenges in locations remote from the engineers who are experts on the challenge could benefit from visual help provided by these experts. At the same time, expert engineers can see what the on-site mechanics are seeing.
Jeffrey Lam, chief operating officer of ST Aerospace, says his firm, with operations far-flung over the globe, is looking at augmented reality to help with maintenance. And Lam says ST Aerospace is considering the technology, “both for training and supporting mechanics in remote locations.”
Several vendors including Microsoft are offering the computerized goggles necessary to implement augmented reality, and of course software must be purpose-built to support aircraft maintenance applications. Lam says ST Aerospace is currently looking for a suitable hardware. However, he adds that it is “also developing the software at the same time.”
Lam estimates it “will take at least another two to three years before more providers start taking up augmented reality as part of their operational tools.” He predicts it will be, “at least five years or more before augmented reality becomes common in the aircraft maintenance industry.”