Lockheed Martin: VR Is on Our Radar

The manufacturer of weapons systems for the US Navy reveals how VR is helping it install radar systems in naval vessels.

Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

June 15, 2017

4 Min Read
Lockheed Martin: VR Is on Our Radar

LONDON -- VR & AR World -- Keeping acquisition costs down is the primary goal for companies like Lockheed Martin RMS, according to Rich Rabbitz, principal member of engineering staff at the company. Utilizing augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools for training and maintenance is a key element in the company's strategy to control these costs.

Speaking at the VR & AR World event in London yesterday, Rabbitz explained that "acquisition cost" was defined a little differently in naval parlance. In this industry, the acquisition cost includes all costs from design all the way through construction and maintenance, to the point where the ship is decommissioned -- and it is critical for the company to keep it as low as possible.

Rabbitz's group, the surface Navy Innovation Center, or NIC, mostly produces radar systems for navy ships, and is tasked with integrating them into the ships' various other systems. This is a complex exercise and requires very precise installation. According to Rabbitz, the tolerance is within one-hundredth of an inch or they won’t work correctly. And once developed, correcting errors is very costly -- a problem it has in common with Boeing. (See Boeing: Productive VR Cuts Training Time by 75%.)

AR and VR are helping the company with its error rate, as they allow Lockheed Martin to identify mistakes and problems in the design stage itself, enabling them to be far more easily -- and cheaply -- remedied than at the construction stage.

The company already has a built-in CAD system for design, so it uses its models to develop a VR environment. The Lockheed platform is called Computerized Object Manipulation In Three-dimensional Space, or the rather more catchy COMITS system. It is a physics-based push button rendering system, allowing it to create digital mock-ups of the actual locations in the ship. This allows the company to take its engineers on a virtual walk through the areas where equipment is to be deployed, and review line-of-sight issues, accessibility to items that may be required for repair/maintenance, and touch screens where required. It can also perform lighting studies to see how much light is hitting a surface. Lockheed Martin can also do this for land-based facilities, such as manufacturing plants, offices, parking lots, etc., to ensure lighting is adequate.

Rabbitz said that the company started out using VR for its customers to give them a sense of what the radar systems would look like installed on their ships, and how the control rooms would be set up. But it turned out that its engineers loved the HTC Vive-based application, and also found that they were discovering far more problems in the design phase than before, when they were just using a 2D CAD system. As discussed, this helps lower acquisition costs for Lockheed Martin.

Rabbitz did say that latency was really critical for the application, and Lockheed Martin is using high frame rates (in the area of 189-213 frames per second) so there have been no instances of motion sickness. Despite that, he reports connection speeds and bandwidth have not been issues. "We're not known for the speed of our network," he said wryly, "but this is about the only thing that works fine."

Lockheed Martin is using H.264 to deliver the graphics as a video stream, and is probably keeping the level of non-essential visual detail and the resolution relatively low. Given the frame rate, if it bumps up the resolution, bandwidth will almost certainly be an issue. A recent report from the Broadband Forum found that for the best quality experience, VR requires 8 Gbit/s streams, a significant challenge for the broad adoption of VR.

The application has been optimized for Google Chrome, and streams in the browser. So Rabbitz is able to stream the VR experience from various Lockheed Martin offices, and even did it in his hotel room in London the day before his presentation.

The company is also using AR for maintenance when the vessel is at sea. Most naval engineers tasked with maintenance are fairly inexperienced, are about 18 to 20 years old, and are required to perform tasks they have only been trained on a couple of times. They are currently required to use a 100-page manual --which is typically located on another deck -- to guide them. This is a painstaking and time-consuming task.

Lockheed Martin has developed an application for use with Microsoft HoloLens, which can line up a hologram of the equipment next to the real item, and have video or audio guidance, step-by-step. It also includes "billboards", or small pop-up signs that identify components and provide instructions. This is a far more user-friendly experience, and allows maintenance procedures to be carried out faster.

While he did not share detailed results, Rabbitz did say the company was seeing a significantly reduced error rate in the construction stage where VR "walk-throughs" were being used -- because more mistakes were being found earlier, in the design stage. And this helps lower those all-important acquisition costs.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

About the Author(s)

Aditya Kishore

Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

Aditya Kishore is the Principal Analyst at Diametric Analysis, a consultancy focused on analysing the disruptive impact of Internet distribution on the video and telecom sectors, and developing the necessary strategies and technology solutions required to drive profitability. He can be reached at [email protected]

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