An increasing amount of work is being done in India in the fields of augmented reality/virtual reality technologies and visual databases for training and other applications. Atul Chandra reports.

India is a preferred destination for global aerospace OEMs who have set up engineering and R&D centres to undertake work on emerging technologies, including AR/VR. Indian IT firms are rolling out AR/VR solutions for a growing number of use cases for aviation applications, ranging from product design to Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO).

India’s large commercial aircraft and military aircraft fleets are also a primary driver for development of custom visual databases for use in simulators.

AR/VR Aviation Applications

Indian IT firm Tech Mahindra was one of the first firms from the country to bring to market an AR app for the MRO segment which drew attention from global aerospace OEMs. Since the aerospace industry relies on largely conventional manufacturing methods, AR technologies are now expanding in use across the entire life cycle of the product, from the  product definition phase to the aftermarket. Tech Mahindra is aiming to position itself as a system integrator to deliver AR/VR solutions on a global scale. “We expect growth in remote support using AR/VR technologies due to the inspection processes needed to comply with safety and certification requirements needed to get global airline fleets back in the air,” Raman Vaidyanathan, CTO - Strategic Solutions, Engineering & IoT, tells CAT

The company’s remote AR-based support solutions allow a subject matter expert to remotely connect with a technician on-site for resolution of an issue or to verify/approve the work carried out, thereby overcoming Covid-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions. In case non-conformities are identified in the work done on the aircraft, the same solution can be used by the design office specialist to capture all the necessary data required to provide the solution to resolve the non-conformity.

Another factor to keep in mind while deploying AR/VR solutions at scale, says Vaidyanathan, is the maturity and readiness of the AR/VR hardware for industrial use in terms of battery life, noise cancellation features and usage conditions. “The marriage of physical (understanding the machine, the design, the physics) and the digital (layering our understanding of the machine with digital, AI and machine learning intelligence) provides us with a unique competitive advantage,” says Kamal Vittapalli, Head/Lead, AR/VR Practice.

While there are several smartglasses available on the market, the reality, according to Vittapalli, is that each smartglass is purpose-built for a particular use case. Integrators like Tech Mahindra are positioning themselves as partners for customers looking to scale their remote support deployments and maximise the utilisation of hardware.

Progressing Reality in India 2Image credit: Tech Mahindra

Smartglass OEMs have put in considerable effort and expense to ensure that their new-generation AR/VR headgear is good for daylong usage. However, the issue of noise cancellation is really critical, when remote support needs to be provided from a noisy shopfloor. While working with an auto industry customer, Tech Mahindra found that noise capture allows a remote expert to better understand and solve a particular problem. For some remote support applications, AR smartglasses need to feature not only noise cancellation but also cater for the secondary function of noise capture for faster problem resolution.

MRO providers also remain largely tethered to existing paper-based processes, spanning multiple systems, which often have steps which rely on in-person access to remote experts. These processes also require detailed and time-consuming documentation (including photographic and video evidence) for compliance and training purposes. To overcome these limitations, Tech Mahindra is working on AR-enabled digital job card solutions for MRO providers. The AR smartglass-based job card solution allows the technician to receive step-by-step work instructions (text, drawings, audio, video, etc.), viewed hands-free through the smartglass, eliminating the need to carry paper-based instructions. By integrating the AR solution with backend IT systems, all the reference documents such as drawings and manuals can be delivered to a technician via the smartglass without the need to walk away from the work site.

Visualising CAE Databases

Canadian firm CAE has a longstanding presence in India and undertakes development of visual databases in India not only for local requirements but also for global projects. Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF), which provides helicopter training on the Bell 412, Airbus Dauphin, and HAL Dhruv at Bengaluru, is a joint venture between CAE and Indian state-owned airframer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL). Wing Commander (Retired) Krishna Neti, CEO HATSOFF, says, “Since the visual database covers almost all of the areas our customers regularly operate at, HATSOFF is able to offer training in terrains, type of helipads, and scenarios operators actually encounter during their operations, adding tremendous value to the simulator training compared to what they were doing at other training centres abroad.”

CAE’s visual database development and content creation team totals over 50 engineers at its facility in India’s IT capital, Bengaluru. The team has been supporting both CAE’s civil aviation and defence business units for over a decade. “Our team in Bengaluru manages the full production lifecycle for visual databases, which includes developing airports, 3D & moving models, and other content such as landmarks and bridges for visual databases,” a CAE spokesperson tells CAT. CAE’s India teams also handle software development for aircraft systems, communication simulation, and CAE’s STRIVE computer-generated forces scenario creation, in addition to instructor operating station (IOS) development.