Immersive Technologies Capable of Revolutionizing Aerospace Written 11 January 2018

Speaker: Elizabeth Baron, virtual reality and advanced visualization technology specialist, Ford Motor Co.

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA Web Editor

Elizabeth Baron, virtual reality and visualization specialist for the Ford Motor Co., discusses “Welcome to the Holodeck” Jan. 11 at the 2018 Science and Technology Forum in Kissimmee, Fla.

Advancements in immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality will revolutionize and streamline many processes in the aerospace industry, said Elizabeth Baron, virtual reality and visualization specialist for the Ford Motor Co., Jan. 11 during the “Welcome to the Holodeck” session at the 2018 AIAA SciTech Forum in Kissimmee, Florida.

Baron, principle inventor of the Ford immersive Vehicle Environment process and technology and the first VR technical specialist at the company, explained the immersive technologies Ford currently uses have similar characteristics to the fictional Holodeck from “Star Trek.”TheHolodeck is a staging environment of omnidirectional holographic diodes in which matter is represented as either solid or visual via transporter and replicator technology and in which participants may engage with different VR environments.

In its use of replicator technology, Baron explained, Ford is milling out simple props representative of the key touch points of a vehicle to allow someone to experience the control of it in the virtual world.

Another benefit of immersive technologies, Baron said, is the ability to take data templates and import them into the virtual world to perform what-if scenarios. Baron called this an “incredibly powerful” tool.

“We have the ability to bring in information that’s relevant without having to go into some software and have to click a bunch of things,” she said. “And it’s simple and understandable, and it’s global.”

The technology also offers other noteworthy benefits, Baron said.

“It’s allowed us to augment a changing process,” she explained. “We’re not standing still; our processes continue to evolve. But immersion in many cases is really at the heart of how we experience, share and discover new capabilities.”

As a result, Baron said, Ford has been able to gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes an enjoyable experience for its customers. She revealed that at Ford, immersive reviews are now a requirement in the company’s product development process.

“We do not produce a vehicle at Ford Motor Co. with any level of change that a customer can see without looking at it in the immersive environment first,” she said. “It’s so valuable to people that the labs are filled, and we’re building extra capacity.”

Baron said the Holodeck concept has many effective uses, including simulation of particular settings and events; the ability to provide a better understanding of unfamiliar cultures and practices; passive or active storytelling; the depiction of historical or upcoming events; forensic reconstruction; and communication and collaboration.

“In the immersive environment, it is the perfect communication tool for unlike minds,” she said, explaining that the system allows their team to come together from any part of the world to quickly gain an understanding of what a car looks like or should look like and then to have a meaningful conversation.

“For a designer, for an artist, it brings an Excel spreadsheet to life,” Baron explained. “They can look at it and understand the significance of the changes that they’re being asked to make, and for an engineer, they can appreciate the form of the vehicle like never before.”

Baron said the future requires continued innovation and that there’s a lot engineers can do to represent the physical world in the virtual environment.

“Augmented and mixed reality are definitely part of our strategy,” she said of Ford. “And it’s ripe for innovation in that space.”

One of Ford’s goals and one that should be at the forefront of the aerospace industry, Baron suggested, is the ability to take data from any source within the company and bring it into an immersive environment to show it in context.

Baron could not stress enough how important it is for engineers to understand “holistically the environment” they’re working in. She called immersive technologies at Ford the “one place … where this team can come together and understand at any time in the process the health of our vehicle as completely as anywhere.”

Baron encouraged aerospace engineers to think hard about what it is they do, how their processes work and “how immersive technologies can really bring together a huge amount of data and put that data in context.”


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