From sports bars to 3-D cinemas, virtual reality (VR) has taken the entertainment world by storm. Increasingly, aircraft manufacturers and completions houses are using it to help customers visualise their ideal aircraft, eliminating the need for several iterations of a hugely expensive mock-up.
By stepping into a virtual world at the outset, customers are able to choose what they want and make a much more informed decision about their cabin interior – as well as giving them extra enthusiasm as the project unfolds.
Embraer Executive Jets has invested heavily in its interiors facility in Melbourne, Florida, mixing both virtual and augmented reality (AR). It has teamed with camera company Canon to install the latter’s Mreal system for mixed reality, leveraging engineering and design for the production of next-generation aircraft.
By combining the rich, visual information of the real world with the flexibility offered by computer-generated images, the system provides Embraer’s engineers with ways to explore aircraft designs in life-size scale and in three dimensions.
Humberto Pereira, the firm’s vice president, engineering and technology, pointed out: “Embraer has been using virtual reality in Brazil to create digital prototypes and evaluate designs since 2000. But our engineers in the US will enjoy the next phase of this philosophy, using mixed reality to provide a more interactive, immersive experience.”
Mreal enables engineers to modify designs with a level of realism that allows complex ideas and plans to come to fruition quickly. The technology lies at the heart of the Melbourne Engineering and Technology Centre, which was built with a $24 million investment from Space Florida.
Embraer also offers its customers the ability to walk through a virtual mock-up of their aircraft online, adding preconfigured colours and renders of surface materials to experiment on how that would look.
Frank Chavez, the firm’s supervisor for interior design and customer installation, explained: “They can download our iPad apps in the comfort of their homes and configure their aeroplanes.”
The service is available for every platform, except the Lineage 1000. Chavez continued: “We give our customers a quick overview of what the platform looks like initially, then they can walk through the aircraft and add and change different schemes.” He said it has shaved plenty of time off the process. Often customers will come in and spec out a Phenom in an afternoon’s visit to the facility.
He said: “You can get renders 30 minutes later, and it makes the process a whole lot more interesting. They walk away with something very realistic. It also works for exterior paint schemes.”
The process has proven invaluable in helping create designs tailored to Middle East clients – many of whom opt for ultra modern piano black glossy veneers. Chavez said that he has walked through a Lineage 1000 outfitted in a beige scheme with a client and an iPad, and been able to demonstrate immediately how an aircraft seat would look in a different colour and with different veneers surrounding it.
Dassault Falcon has also opened two state-of-the-art interior design and showroom centres aimed at facilitating the selection of interior design solutions and options for Falcon customers. Located at Paris-Le Bourget and Teterboro, two of the busiest executive aviation airports in Europe and the US, the multimillion-dollar facilities provide an interactive environment that allows customers to specify their aircraft interiors and pick and choose from available on-board equipment hardware and materials in the easiest and most efficient manner possible.
Specification areas are equipped with high-definition screens and advanced 3D tools that interface directly with Dassault’s digital modelling software, greatly simplifying the cabin design process.
Showrooms feature a stylish and elegant decor that permits seats, in-flight entertainment equipment, galley appliances, lighting, panelling and other interior features to be displayed in an environment reminiscent of a typical Falcon cabin. Design of the facilities drew heavily on ideas and suggestions from Falcon operators. There are two to assist customers from regions such as the Middle East, who may not want to fly as far as Little Rock.
Eric Trappier, Dassault Aviation CEO said: “The interior spec and design process has evolved greatly over the past several years with the wide use of digital tools, 3D processes like Dassault Systemes CATIA, and a greatly expanded selection of options and new products. Our customers now have a very accurate vision of the aircraft interior they are designing, several months before the first part is manufactured.”
Lufthansa Technik (LHT), too, has invested heavily into virtual and augmented reality technologies. In contrast to VR, AR offers users additional information in real time over and above what they actually perceive. This allows for innovative new production procedures and methods.
LHT said: “The high level of effort required for installation in case of primary structural connections in VIP completion projects can be reduced by using laser-based installation templates.”
It has already swapped such processes to replace old manual, mechanical measurement and alignment tools for a new laser-based AR system. It’s a mobile projection system that can be positioned and aligned flexibly in the aircraft fuselage in line with the respective installation situation. The installation template is projected on to the work environment and corresponds to the virtual 3D model. It acts as a positioning and alignment aid. The employee can then install the required components.
The firm says that the precision “significantly increased” when installing primary structural connections, while reducing the workload by almost 50%.
The firm launched a VIP interior concept for the Airbus A350 dubbed ‘Home’, and aimed at a new generation of buyers. Michael Reichenecker, LHT interior architect and Home’s co-designer said: “Our customers are getting younger and they will have different demands on what they want their aircraft to do.”
LHT believes these customers will demand a flexible space that allows them to alternately enjoy complete family privacy or entertaining, while still accommodating staff and other support needs.
To show the concept off, LHT offered a virtual tour of the interior at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE), using 3D monitors and iPad apps providing 360-degree views from various points in the floor plan.
“We wanted to put the human being at the centre of the story,” Reichenecker said. “We want the VIP to leave more relaxed than when they entered.”
LHT sees demand for new narrow-body business airliners declining and pre-owned sales and refurbishments on the increase. The used inventory is coming mostly from the Middle East and Asia, the firm said, as are purchases and requests for retrofits. Here again, LHT sees a generational shift occurring. “The customers are getting younger and they do not want to wait so long to get a new aircraft and interior.”
Realising this, London-based pre-owned aircraft broker, The Jet Business, launched a cabin interiors app two years ago at the Dubai Airshow. Clients can visualise a variety of business jet cabins in a full-size replication and experiment with full 3D interior view of business jet cabins at the company’s London showroom.
The completions customisation ability adds on to the firm’s original sales app, which features comparative graphic images and full size 1:1 cabin cross-sections of the jets. However, the interiors app allows potential buyers to change the style of aircraft seats, cabinetry veneers and soft furnishings in a virtual life-size representation of the cabin. The software can instantly change fabrics, carpets, woods, cabinetry, veneers, finishes and upholstery. The firm works with material suppliers to ensure it has the most up-to-date digital and physical samples in its selection choices.
The company said it launched the app in direct response to client demand. CEO Steve Varsano said: “With a wide range of options now available in interior furnishings and the great leaps in technology and digital imagery, we are very pleased to help clients create personalised interiors, which reflect their lifestyles and tastes. Up to now, the process has been very different for clients to immediately visualise their choices only using swatch materials.”