Over time, we have seen Microsoft progressively shift away from its virtual and mixed reality plans in the consumer space, as was the case with respect to the Xbox One, and more towards enterprise implementations such as SharePoint spaces released into private preview last year. Now, Airbus is taking a step into mixed reality in a bid to ramp up its aircraft production rate.
Having manufactured 10,000 aircraft in its first 40 years of operation, the Airbus is aiming to build another 20,000 in the next 20 years, quadrupling its rate of output. The aerospace giant has already identified "more than 300 use cases" that will leverage HoloLens 2 and Azure Mixed Reality, including situations where a worker has their hands full but also requires access to instructional information without interruption. It will also enable staff to receive training "without the need for an actual physical aircraft or parts".
With respect to the strategy, Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus, said:
"Our challenge in the coming years is to manufacture more aircraft faster, and for that we need to enable our workers to be much better equipped and to be much more effective in what they do. We need to raise the bar. To face this challenge, we intend to make an intense use of mixed reality and that’s why we’ve partnered with Microsoft."
Airbus has already seen significant results in trial applications of mixed reality in its business, with Dumont noting that "the level of human error is significantly reduced, and in aerospace, increased quality is increased safety - and needless to say, security goes with that." In fact, the company has seen mixed reality implementations slash production timeframes by one-third while quality has increased.
However, the benefits of mixed reality won't be limited to its own workforce, with Airbus planning to sell off-the-shelf informational and training solutions to its own customers in partnership with Microsoft. These include a mixed reality training program for cabin crew and maintenance staff as well as "a collaborative map solution that allows participants from the defense and aerospace fields to virtually connect, quickly share space data and interact with complex virtual environments to plan and prepare ahead of missions".
While Airbus is also working on a range of requests for additional training, maintenance, and collaboration solutions from its customers, the company is looking to leverage its partnership with Microsoft in order to become a key player in the aerospace digital services space in the future.