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XR Drives Aerospace Excellence at Boeing

by Brian Laughlin – Technical Fellow, Technical Architecture / Strategic Planning, The Boeing Co.

Extended reality (XR) has burst onto the scene in the last few years, offering us amazing visualization possibilities in myriad application areas along the aerospace supply chain. While there has been explosive growth in this space of late, there is actually a very rich history between XR technologies, aerospace and Boeing.

Tom Caudell and David Mizell coined the term “augmented reality” (a sub-type of XR) while experimenting in the early 1990s with better ways to manufacture wiring looms on a then-new Boeing plane called the 777.

They set out to enable mechanics to build the wiring looms on peg boards without having to look at reference drawings or use other jigs. Wearing something akin to what are now called “smart glasses,” the mechanic could at once look at the peg board and digital wiring drawings overlaid onto it. This let the mechanic simply trace the digital image to build the looms.

While the concept successfully demonstrated the capability, and laid the foundation for future work in this area, the technology needed further development to make it more usable.

One way to help clarify the various technologies in the extended reality collection is to differentiate them by how much immersion each leverages in doing what it does. (The Shades of Reality graphic on the following page describes the XR technology continuum based on seminal work by Paul Milgram called the Virtuality Continuum.)

Boeing has made great progress since those pioneering efforts, and the company continues to explore the use of XR.

Today, Boeing is exploring, and in some cases leveraging, these emerging technologies in many business units, including: commercial, defense, space and security, and global services. Applications include delivery of work instructions for assembly, repair and maintenance, training, design reviews and product “visioneering.”

As part of these efforts, Boeing collaborates with universities and industry leaders.

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