Raytheon Uses Augmented Reality To Speed Missile Design
Raytheon, No. 4 in the InformationWeek Elite 100 ranking, uses CAVEs -- computer-assisted virtual environments -- to boost collaboration among engineers and with customers.
A missile streaking toward you is a terrifying visual, but for Raytheon engineers it's a welcome sight.
Virtually speaking, of course.
Raytheon's engineering and manufacturing groups are working closely with its IT organization on stereoscopic 3D (S3D) and augmented-reality technologies to help Raytheon engineers collaborate with one another and with partners and suppliers on missile designs.
Engineers start the process with computer-aided design (CAD) product drawings rendered into 3D models placed onto S3D displays. The final destination for these models is state-of-the-art S3D screens that Raytheon calls CAVEs, or cave automatic virtual environments. ("Cave" itself stands for computer assisted virtual environment.)
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CAVEs can be the size of a small theater or can be taken off-site via portable screens. Or, the CAVE experience could be as intimate as an engineer wearing 3D glasses sitting at an S3D-enabled workstation that's linked to a remote site. Whichever shape a CAVE takes, when engineers put on 3D eyewear and step into one, they become part of an augmented-reality world where they can see products in a three-dimensional space and share the view with others.
Before adopting S3D and augmented-reality technologies, Raytheon engineers would analyze CAD drawings by sitting together with laptops talking through design issues, a process that simply took too long. "With 3D visualizations, people spread out around the world get the same immersive view of a missile design or a simulated battle environment," says Anthony Jones, director of architecture and advanced technologies at Raytheon Missile Systems.
Raytheon engineers and customers collaborate on products in a 3D space.
In a typical meeting, engineers and partners collaborate within a CAVE on a videoconference. The emphasis at meetings isn't on having one group presenting to another, but rather on letting everyone explore the 3D models together. "They might as well be in the same room at that point," Jones says. "If there are language barriers among international partners and engineers, the 3D models and CAVEs become a common language."
Creating virtual missile prototypes is more cost-effective than building physical ones, with the added benefit of speeding up design and getting products to market faster.
"It's easy to look inside a 3D missile model to see if some wiring is too close to a part that gets hot and then adjust the design quickly," says Jones, adding that in the physical world you'd have to take a missile prototype apart to check on wiring, which is time-consuming.
In addition to improving teamwork internally, 3D models and CAVEs also have injected new life into customer presentations. Raytheon uses CAVEs to demo products by placing customers in a simulated battle environment, complete
Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio