The challenges of “virtual-real” technologies and the metaverse for the Aerospace & Defense sector

We participated in a round table organized by Olivier Wyman on the challenges of “virtual-real” technologies and the metaverse for the Aerospace & Defense sector with our client Nicolas Chevassus, head of Ariane 6 Digital.

Here is a summary of the important points that were raised:

Virtual Reality technologies are now more than 20 years old in some French industries. ArianeGroup has been using solutions to see Ariane 5 in 1:1 scale since 1999, then in 2005 developed the ability to create mannequins to verify maintainability, then around 2010 Augmented Reality was introduced to guide operators in the various stages of operations. 

With these many years of experience, ArianeGroup is looking, like many industries, for “digital continuity”; the ability to work on the same file in a collaborative manner from design to maintenance, including production and training. This is where the greatest leverage lies to generate efficiency gains and decompartmentalization between trades and uses within industries; and this necessarily involves the use of digital twins. The aim is to obtain greater flexibility in the use of data against a backdrop of technical developments that allow for greater immersion in the use of data. 

This digital continuity will probably be achieved through metaverses that offer us new challenges.

The metaverse, 4 promises and stakes

The first promise is the future of the Internet; with Web3 we expect and hope for a change in the use of the Internet. From the engineer’s point of view, the promise is the virtualization of everything. The challenge is to create a collaborative environment for engineers in which they can work and, above all, interact to develop their ideas. It is a space in which the human factor is important.

The second promise is that of a space for development and exchange. This implies a fine management of users and “communities” but also a management of versions and traceability. The challenge is data security. This is a key point that raises many questions such as data governance, data hosting and of course data control. In short: who, how and where the data is hosted.

The third promise is that of a marketplace. A place where one can acquire physical or digital products and services. The issue is regulation; what are the best practices, with which relay between use and legislation.

The fourth promise is that of a platform containing content, applications, a system and software infrastructure, and a network infrastructure. The challenge here is sovereignty.

We need to be able to control all the components mentioned, especially for particularly sensitive subjects in the aerospace and defense sectors.

It is also necessary to be able to effectively train all the stakeholders to deal with the importance of the issues we have mentioned.

The promises of Metavers lead us to imagine colossal benefits for pure innovation. From our point of view, one of the purposes is to test things we don’t know, in environments we don’t know, and therefore to be able to access concrete simulations of almost “unimaginable” situations while being immersive. 

To illustrate this, we think of the example of NASA, which, in partnership with Epic Games, launched a call for projects to create VR experiences of life on Mars for research and testing purposes. We also think of the presentation of the new European space shuttle project by ArianeGroup, Susie, whose simulations allow a large number of people to understand the project and therefore be able to support it.

More concretely, the Aerospace & Defense sector is a sector with multiple and often specific issues due to the notion of secrecy that surrounds it; it addresses particularly complex issues and involves a certain number of uses:

Innovative projects must be disruptive so as to never be taken by surprise.  These projects require representations of the real world for simulations or monitoring and imply precise anticipation needs in order to demystify as much as possible and as early as possible.

Projects often bring together a large number of actors: employees, suppliers, partners or even public institutions that may be distributed in different geographical locations; the need for collaboration tools is therefore particularly important. 

It is therefore easy to understand why the promises of Metavers seem to be perfectly adapted to all these needs.

Moreover, the existence of very large projects is another specificity of the sector; we are thinking here of rockets like Ariane 6, the international space station or even aircraft carriers. For such products, 1:1 scale prototypes do not exist and the virtual reality alternatives proposed today are a real evolution.

In this context, the emergence of new immersive data exploitation solutions opens new horizons to test more and more possible situations.

It is to try to answer these multiple challenges that SkyReal develops a software solution to transform existing CAD files into realistic experiences at 1:1 scale based on the technology of the Unreal Engine of the company Epic Games founded by Tim Sweeney.

In concrete terms, the idea is to gather collaborators in virtual reality around an industrial project to work more efficiently. It is in this sense that we are now talking about the Metaverse, a word that entered the common language with the change of name of the company Facebook. A metaverse is, in the way we define it at SkyReal, a virtual universe in which several people can find themselves with or without a VR headset, to do things together in the same space and where there are CAD elements that have not been specifically created for this.

In other words, it is a new way of exploiting existing 3D files to perform any type of action related to design, production or preparation, training and maintenance.

The industrial metaverse offered by SkyReal allows many uses to its users with first of all the collaboration we talked about above.

For engineers, it is a design space with infinite possibilities in which the modifications made can be saved on the original CAD in order to link innovation and production.

It is also possible to conduct design reviews with a very large number of participants; we have developed specific tools for this.

SkyReal also allows users to simulate and experiment, to test several scenarios and to quickly see the possible directions to innovate faster. 

In large-scale projects that involve many collaborators on several production sites and in several countries, it is not always easy to have a global view and to follow the progress with precision. SkyReal proposes a solution to consider a project as a whole by exploiting the existing data; it is a new decision support tool.

Finally, and in a general way, the idea is to constitute a participative work environment where everyone will be able to develop his contribution and which will offer a common representation of a complex project carried out by very varied consortiums; it is an ambitious project whose first stones are already laid.