Connecting Engineers with Aircraft Maintainers
Using augmented reality, a team from Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst, is helping aircraft and support equipment (SE) maintainers in the fleet save time and money.
Team Collaborative Augmented Reality Maintenance Assistant (CARMA), comprised of five engineers and a logistician, conducted research, development and testing as part of a six-month NAWCAD Innovation Challenge to create a working prototype that would allow subject matter experts to help maintainers troubleshoot equipment virtually.
“Using augmented reality tools, we can place a SME right with the maintainer doing repairs or whatever a maintainer needs help with fleet side, base side, wherever they need it,” said Connor Hagerty, CARMA team lead. “The expert will be able to see everything the maintainer sees and mark it up with drawings, with pictures, whatever they need to do to help the maintainer make the repair.”
This virtual interaction reduces the costs of SMEs traveling to maintainers’ locations to assist with complicated repairs and speeds up repair time, said Michael Confessore, CARMA’s system architecture and graphical user interface designer.
“Even beyond that cost and time savings, a lot of times, if systems go down, they have to wait for the SME to get there, so there’s a cascading effect where you can’t use this piece of equipment, so you can’t repair this engine, so now that plane can’t fly. So getting these repairs done much quicker brings speed to the fleet,” Confessore said.
Over the course of the challenge, the team worked to bridge communication between an augmented reality headset -which the maintainer would wear—and a tablet or similar device the SME could use to see what the maintainer sees.
“CARMA is completely agnostic of system. It has a very universal appeal that, regardless of what you’re using, if you need subject matter input from anybody, they can be there instantly,” Hagerty said.
Feedback from maintainers was an important part of the development process, said Ric-Rey Vergara, CARMA’s data transfer and networking lead.
“Through brainstorming with maintainers, we got a better idea of how they would use it day-to-day on maintenance operations,” said Robert Samuel, augmented reality developer for CARMA. “For the maintainers’ feedback so far, it’s all been positive.”
In a first for the Innovation Challenge, Team CARMA incorporated logistics into the development process from the start, including supply support, training and technical data elements. This included creating a logistics analysis report, operational user’s manual and software documents, said Lauren Rowek, logistics lead for CARMA.
“Planning for logistics support early on in CARMA’s development enhanced insight to future sustainment and supportability processes that will be applied to CARMA,” Rowek said. “Logistics plays an important role in the lifecycle support of a system, as logistics planning provides a better look ahead to what elements CARMA will require once it reaches the acquisition phases.”
The team worked together, with guidance from teammate Didier Lessage at Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, Florida, to establish a CARMA working prototype.
The prototype was demoed successfully with Air Force maintainers at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“Initiatives like the Innovation Challenge allow our personnel the freedom to find new ways to support our Sailors and Marines,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, director of the support equipment and aircraft launch and recovery equipment department at Naval Air Systems Command. “I commend Team CARMA for a job well done and am excited to see what comes next with this innovative use of digital tools to bring speed to the fleet.”
The team plans to continue developing CARMA through a Naval Innovation Science and Engineering Program proposal and pursue other adaptations of augmented and virtual reality, said
Michael Donovan, virtual reality developer for CARMA.
“I really enjoyed the team atmosphere, being able to work on something that’s innovative and new to the Navy, and showing that it’s got merit and a place to help the fleet,” Donovan said.
Written by Allison Murawski, a public affairs officer with NAWCAD Lakehurst.