Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is so impressed with the boost in productivity it has gained from Microsoft's HoloLens, the company will begin offering augmented reality software to its customers.
On Monday at the Paris Air Show, Airbus announced that it will begin selling off-the-shelf applications, including training, remote collaboration, and maintenance solutions, that the company has built through its own experience with the AR headset.
"HoloLens 2 was born from the inspiration that it be designed for the customer, by the customer," says Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft, in a statement. "Airbus has long been a strategic partner in building the future of mixed reality solutions for an industrial environment and we have learned a lot from them. We are thrilled to continue our partnership as we embark on this next era of computing, the era of mixed reality and artificial intelligence."
Airbus' first customer is Japan Airlines, which received its first Airbus A350 XWB last week. The airline will deploy a training program that assists maintenance technicians and cabin crew with 3D content and workflow instructions displayed in their field of view while on the job. In addition, Airbus has prepared a collaborative map solution for defense and aerospace customers that enables users to interact with virtual maps to share information and plan missions remotely.
According to the company, the decision to transform from a customer of Microsoft's AR headset to a vendor of AR software was born out of the success of the company's pilot programs with HoloLens and the return on investment realized from those programs.
For example, Airbus cites an 80% reduction in total time spent in design processes by enabling designers to test their work virtually. The company has also deployed the HoloLens on the manufacturing line, where workers can access job information, such as instructions and diagrams, while keeping their hands free.
"By having the right information at the right time in hands free mode, not only does quality increase, but also safety, and this is what we are looking for. Quality without consideration of the well-being of our workers is not possible," said Barbara Bergmeier, head of operations at Airbus Defense and Space.
The company expects the HoloLens and associated AR software to contribute to its goal of manufacturing 20,000 aircraft over the next 20 years. That's a yeoman's effort, considering the company built just 10,000 aircraft in its first 40 years of existence.
"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," said Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus. "To face this challenge, we intend to make an intense use of mixed reality and that's why we've partnered with Microsoft."
Airbus is certainly a fan of augmented reality. In addition to working with the HoloLens, the company has previously updated its iflyA380 app for iOS with augmented reality features and has done business with Varjo, an AR/VR headset company working on "human eye resolution" displays.
The partnership represents a significant alliance for Microsoft in its quest to position the HoloLens 2 as a tool for enterprise businesses. While other tech giants appear focused on bringing augmented reality to consumers (and, in some cases, perhaps before the technology is truly ready for that purpose), Microsoft is content to work in a realm where customers are willing to invest in pricier AR headsets in order to become more efficient in their operations.