A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. An Augmented Reality ‘picture’, as NASA has found, is worth even more. The Aerospace industry has always been heavily reliant on upcoming technologies. Following the experimental footsteps of sibling Aerospace companies, Lockheed Martin Engineers are turning to AR headsets for speeding up the Orion spacecraft assembly process, as recently reported by MIT Technology Review.
The finishing touches to crew capsule Orion seem well under way. The capsule that is supposed to take humans the farthest in space we’re been so far is the assembly stage. The company charged with the task, Lockheed Martin, embraced the newest AR technology to help speed things up. As a way of relaying their workers, such monumental projects used to rely on vast, four-figure page scripts. Lockheed Martin is replacing such cumbersome practice with using Microsoft HoloLens AR headsets to brief their workers and distribute visual information. Orion spacecraft assembly will be done in Florida.
The case with NASA is a curious one. Unlike mass produced tech gadgets, say, iPhones, space effort allows engineers to build only one of everything. ‘Just about every time’ said Brian O’Connor, the Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space, we are building something for the first time’. Such production dynamics excludes any room for error, just as each project stands as a fresh challenge. As far as aero industry goes, Airbus and Boeing have also dabbled in AR recently. None of them went beyond experimental phase though, making Lockheed Martin the first one to fully embrace Augmented Reality.
The Orion Spacecraft assembly is already benefiting from AR application. The HoloLens headset is best used as a morning task scanning routine. It provides hologram models overlaid on real-life assembled craft. These display information, instructions for instance, that help workers finish the task at hand, as well as see the results of the task fulfilled. The problem that has traditionally plagued AR headsets is still present – Due to its still somewhat cumbersome nature, the HoloLens headset is wearable for approximately three hours tops. For this, the Orion Spacecraft assembly team use the headset in short, 15-minute takes rather than going full distance with it.
Lockheed Martin seems fairly excited about the new AR application. So much so, that the company is even planning to take it to space. Shelley Peterson, the head of emerging technologies at Lockheed Martin, is just the person to comment on this. ‘What we want astronauts to be able to do is have maintenance, capability that’s much more intuitive that going through text or drawing content’. The AR application on Earth, Peterson goes on, will help fuel the ambition to use Augmented Reality to maintain the spacecraft.
Be that as it may, the space AR application is still some time down the road. Let Lockheed Martin run tests and let them extend the AR application to ever more uses. Not without its limitations, bulkiness being one, Microsoft’s darlings prove extremely useful during Orion spacecraft assembly. Let it fly first, the Orion, and then we can talk about AR spreading its wings in space.