NASA Uses HoloLens AR Headsets to Create a Spacecraft

NASA Uses HoloLens AR Headsets to Create a Spacecraft

The glasses help Lockheed Martin engineers assemble the Orion capsule without having to read thousands of pages of paper instructions.

© LOCKHEED MARTIN

When you work in a factory that puts thousands of items on stream, such as an iPhone or shoes, you quickly become an expert in the assembly process. But when something like a spaceship is produced, everything becomes much more complicated.

Almost every time we build something for the first time, ” says Brian O’Connor, vice president of manufacturing at Lockheed Martin Space.

Traditionally, aerospace organizations provide instructions to their employees in thousands of pages of paper reference books. In recent years, companies such as Boeing and Airbus have started experimenting with augmented reality, but they rarely go beyond testing.

At Lockheed, this is changing. The company’s employees now use AR on a daily basis to perform their duties.

Space technician Dekker Jory uses a Microsoft HoloLens headset every day for his work on the Orion capsule, designed for NASA’s powerful – and repeatedly delayed – Space launch System.

At the beginning of the day, I put on the device to get used to it, ” says Jory.

At the moment, the time of wearing the headset is about three hours, until it becomes too uncomfortable and too heavy.

Therefore, Dekker and his team of assemblers use the headset to study a task or check the direction of work, and not to constantly receive instructions.

© LOCKHEED MARTIN© LOCKHEED MARTIN

In the headset, workers can see holographic layouts created with the help of engineering design software from Scope AR. Models of parts and markings are superimposed on the already assembled parts of the shuttle.

Information, such as instructions for screwing parts, is displayed directly above the holes they relate to, and workers can see what the finished product will look like.

The new technology that Jory’s team is currently using to build the Orion heat shield frame takes up space on 1,500 pages of written instructions.

Lockheed is seeing impressive results during the testing of augmented reality. It took much less time for technicians to familiarize themselves and prepare for a new task, or to understand and perform processes such as drilling holes and twisting fasteners.

© LOCKHEED MARTIN© LOCKHEED MARTIN

These results encourage the organization to expand its ambitions in using headsets: one day the company hopes to apply them in space.

Shelly Peterson, head of new technologies at Lockheed Martin, says that the way workers use headsets here on Earth gives an idea of how augmented reality can help astronauts maintain a spacecraft in space.

We want astronauts to have maintenance capabilities that are much more intuitive than texts or drawings, ” says Peterson.

At the moment, the headsets still need some adjustments to improve their wear resistance and ease of use before they can be used in space. Creating content for specialists requires a lot of effort, but it is constantly becoming easier. O’Connor believes that these obstacles will be overcome quickly.

Source: MIT Technology Review

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