Mechanics at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia had been taking up to 8.5 hours to troubleshoot wiring problems on the F/A-18 Hornet using paper manuals or digital displays on a laptop, and sometimes they had to retrace their steps because they took a wrong step opening panels around the aircraft. Now they are taking about 1.5 hours by opening just the right panels to get at the problem in just the right sequence, according to Avatar Partners.
The difference is an augmented reality (AR) tool developed by Avatar, which locks on a specific object on the aircraft and then leads the mechanics through the necessary steps in each panel and then takes them to the next panels in the right order.
Avatar started with PTC’s Studio suite of AR solutions. It then added its own customization for the project, using Navy technical manuals and wiring diagrams to display the results on a Microsoft Hololens 2. When first approaching the aircraft, AR locks onto it by recognizing the front landing gear rather than relying on some sort of location sticker, which would not be practical on the carrier fighter.
Avatar also solved two other problems that worry AR developers. It eliminated jitter in the AR images, which can cause dizziness in users. And Avatar stopped drift, the tendency of an AR image to move out of alignment with the object it represents. And if drift occurs, voice recognition technology lets the mechanic tell the AR to reset itself to an accurate location and step.
Avatar developers also have deployed AR to help the Coast Guard maintain engines and are looking at doing the same for Coast Guard aircraft. Other candidates under consideration include GE’s F414 engines and the C-130 Hercules.
The company says it would like to develop AR for commercial aircraft, but so far OEMs like Boeing and Airbus have been reluctant to share the technical data necessary to inform AR displays.