In 2011, Newport News Shipbuilding began a research and development project to learn how to apply Augmented Reality (AR) to shipbuilding. They called the project “Drawingless Deckplate.” After a year, it was apparent that the potential cost savings in shipbuilding were big enough to start forming a dedicated team. Today, the AR team has more than 30 projects either completed, in process, or in backlog.
NNS recently formed a teaming agreement to pursue commercial work with Index AR Solutions, a startup based in Williamsburg. The U.S. Navy is also showing interest, funding their first AR project with NNS in February 2015. The NNS Fleet Support team is using AR to visualize and prepare for a modernization job on submarine USS Jefferson City (SSN 759).
What is AR?
Augmented Reality (AR) is much easier to understand once experienced. AR overlays digital information onto the physical world through a window – like an iPad or a TV. For football fans, it’s the first down line displayed digitally for the TV audience. For movie fans, it’s the heads-up display in Iron Man’s suit.
In shipbuilding, the potential applications are enormous, including comparing a 3D product model to its physical counterpart, planning and training for future work, step-by-step maintenance instructions, and highlighting potential safety concerns in a space.
Highlight critical safety information in a challenging work environment
Augmented Reality can be used to bring critical safety information to light for anyone working in a tough environment with complex tools and equipment. At Newport News we have used Augmented Reality to guide employees through complex tool preparation, and to highlight critical part information. We believe sailors face numerous safety issues while underway, but that augmented reality can be used to alleviate them.
Bring the ship to life in a new way by revealing data while it is in context
Augmented reality has the potential for eliminating shipboard displays and fundamentally changing design and naval architecture approaches. In addition to changing the ship, augmented reality will also impact the people. AR delivers more information in an intuitive way – making every sailor more knowledgeable and capable. Augmented reality will afford the Navy the opportunity to eliminate costly support systems, reconsider the entire configuration of the spaces on its vessels, and re-examine the role of each individual sailor all while maintaining, if not improving, the overall effectiveness and execution of the Navy’s mission. Newport News Shipbuilding has been investing in augmented reality solutions since 2011. Along with dozens of prototype projects that have already proven their ability to aide in shipbuilding, several prototypes have been created that have the ability to see the above system come to fruition.
Enable every sailor to become a quick expert on complex systems
Find another way to utilize the product model by delivering it to the sailor for their use. Enable them to understand complex systems without the need for large paper manuals which can be difficult to read and understand. Publish changes to maintenance applications, if connected, sailors can access them underway.
Ease the operation of complex equipment by overlaying the instructions on the object
Rather than delivering bulky training manuals, or developing and delivering web-based or in person training, use Augmented Reality to generate a hands-on experience. From our experience at Newport News we understand the Navy has many complex systems, and equipment on its ships and installations. Finding the means to effectively communicate the necessary steps to operate them can be challenging. A key difference augmented reality offers over other methods is that it complements the physical object. Now the sailor or worker can be training on the installed system or equipment that they will be using rather than mock-ups, or web-based scenarios. Another key difference is the delivery medium. Changes can be published to applications, and if the sailor is connected, they can receive an update in the field, rather than waiting on delivery of revised training manuals.