Pulse news magazine

Volume 28, February 2020

A new view: How augmented and virtual reality are bringing our business into focus

Augmented and virtual reality technologies are quickly becoming a critical part of the way BAE Systems does business.

Not only is seeing believing, it is also the key to understanding.

That's why augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies are quickly becoming a critical part of the way BAE Systems does business. From tradeshows to the factory floor, AR/VR technology is being used to explain complex manuals, design the workspaces of the future, facilitate product design, and showcase the advantages our technologies bring to our military and commercial customers.

"Augmented and virtual reality-based experiences can really compress that timeline of human understanding, appealing to the visual form of storytelling of human beings," said John Kelly, director of the Empower Innovation Center. Empower is a program designed to encourage employee submission of transformational ideas, concepts, and technologies for potential R&D funding. The program plays a key role in developing immersive AR experiences, with the goal of replacing the complexity of PDF files, PowerPoint presentations, or thousand-page operator's manuals with a 3-D animated and narrated experience.

At tradeshows, a cinematic-quality application can be used to demonstrate how BAE Systems' products provide critical capabilities on the battlefield. A user puts the headset on, and watches an animated scene on a miniature table top view. In one scenario, an enemy vehicle is being pursued by a military helicopter and the mission is played out – a real time, visual explanation of the company's technology at work.

AR/VR can also help people learn how to do their jobs better and safer. The AR/VR headsets allow for training simulations for people in shipyards or in maintenance situations. For example, AR can allow a user in New Hampshire to visualize the compact and highly sophisticated engine room of an Enhydra Ferry – which uses BAE Systems hybrid electric motor – thousands of miles away in the San Francisco Bay. "It's understanding at the speed of sight," said Kelly. "We've been incubating AR technology since 2016, and now we're driving it into all parts of the business." That includes the factory floor, where the capability now exists to replace complex manuals and guided work instructions with AR technology that visually demonstrates how a product is to be assembled. Over at our Greenlawn, New York facility, virtual reality is being used to assist with product design.

A still from an AR demonstration of the Enhydra ferry's engine room. A still from an AR demonstration

Additionally, VR is helping our Huntsville, Alabama, site team design and verify alternative layouts for their brand new, 83,000-square-foot facility due to open this year. The VR application allows users to virtually visit the new site in full scale. As changes are made, the VR representation is updated to make sure the layout is optimal prior to any furniture or equipment being installed.

"In the next 5 to 7 years, augmented and virtual reality technologies are going to be omnipresent. It's going to be all across the business," Kelly says. A visual tactic, he says, that will enable BAE Systems to pave the way for leading-edge technology.

By Shelley Walcott, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire