When workers for Lockheed Martin began assembling the crew seats for a spacecraft designed to return astronauts to the moon and pave the way for human exploration to Mars, they had no need for paper instructions or tablet screens to work from.
Everything they needed to see — from animations of how pieces fit together to engineering drawings to torque values for tightening bolts — was visible in HoloLens 2 devices that they wore.
The mixed reality headsets left their hands free to manipulate hardware. Voice commands guided them through every step, with holographic instructions overlaid on the relevant parts of the four seats that will be installed inside the crew module of the Orion spacecraft, which Lockheed Martin is building to support NASA’s Artemis program to carry humans to the moon and beyond.
“They didn’t have to refer back to a computer screen or paper drawings during that entire activity,” said Shelley Peterson, Lockheed Martin principal investigator for augmented and mixed reality. “Out on the shop floor they can put on the HoloLens 2 device, power it up, and it has all the content that they need to figure out how to do that task overlaid right there on the structure.”
Building a spacecraft requires millions of tasks, each with zero room for error, from attaching electrical cables in the correct pathways to lubricating joints and precisely locating thousands of tiny devices that measure how the craft performs under stress.
Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor building Orion, has employed HoloLens 2 on a variety of assembly tasks for the spacecraft that will be used in NASA’s Artemis II mission, the first to carry a crew of astronauts aboard Orion.
For some jobs that require lots of precise measuring by hand — such as marking locations for hundreds of fasteners on Orion’s spacecraft adapter jettison fairings — technicians using holographic instructions have finished those repetitive tasks 90 percent faster. The mixed reality headsets have also all but eliminated assembly mistakes, Peterson said. Lockheed Martin has experienced zero errors or rework requests on tasks in which workers were assisted by HoloLens headsets, which the company first deployed at the end of 2017, she said.
“The fact that we haven’t had any errors across all of these activities is phenomenal,” said Peterson, who oversees the company’s mixed reality initiatives.
“Usually when we’re considering new technologies we’re asking if there’s improved quality, if it’s faster or if it’s less expensive, and most people say you can only get two out of the three because there are always tradeoffs. What we’re finding with the HoloLens 2 is that we can hit all three, which is pretty unique,” Peterson said.
At its Ignite conference on Sept. 22, Microsoft announced it is expanding the global availability of HoloLens 2, which is now available for purchase in Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Poland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.