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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.

with S3D imagery and an augmented-reality backdrop of mountains or a desert.

This type of "you are there" experience can spark customers' creativity, Jones says. They might not know exactly what product they're looking for until they're thrown into a simulated 3D atmosphere.

For example, Raytheon recently showed a customer a naval missile in an S3D environment that simulated a battleship at sea. The experience brought out characteristics of the ship-based missile that the customer also wanted in a land-based missile. "That idea wasn't on their mind going into the demo," Jones says.

Raytheon has also used the technology to inspire middle school students, as part of the company's efforts to encourage STEM learning among the young.

raytheonkids.jpg

Raytheon brings school projects to 3D life for middle school
students in Tucson, Ariz.

Beyond designing virtual missile prototypes and demoing products, Raytheon used its 3D models, augmented reality, and CAVEs last year to design and test an entire missile factory based in Huntsville, Ala. The factory uses the latest robotics and computer-controlled tools and houses SM-3 missiles, a key component in the US government's missile defense plan.

By modeling the missile factory in a CAVE, Raytheon engineers detected early on that some equipment was set up too closely together to be safe, so they made adjustments before physically building the factory.

The two main challenges when deploying an S3D and augmented-reality system, Jones says, have been getting Raytheon's conventional 2D images up to 3D standards and investing in the physical space and screens needed for CAVEs. But the transition was worth it, he says, as engineers embrace S3D scenarios while the company saves money.

Raytheon estimates that visualization technologies have prevented potential design errors and saved a substantial number of engineering hours in manufacturing products. Money savings have come from eliminating cross-country trips between Raytheon and its suppliers, avoiding product mock-up and proof-of-design failures, passing design reviews and completing designs more quickly, and spotting early on potential mechanical defects that might not have been found without immersive S3D.

Raytheon's CAVEs are still a work in progress, though, says Jones, who looks forward to some of the next-generation 3D environments that won't require the eyewear now needed for CAVEs. He also hopes to use iPads and "smart" glasses such as Google Glass to enter S3D and AR scenarios.

But he's most enthusiastic about advances in portable virtual and augmented-reality gear expected to be made in the next five years. At Raytheon's Immersive Design Center, IT teams work with operations and engineering to test new technologies. One gadget Raytheon is looking at now is Oculus Rift, a still-in-development virtual reality headset (whose maker was recently acquired by Facebook) that's used for 3D gaming where the wearer interacts with objects and other players.

Says Jones: "We're excited to adapt gaming and consumer-driven technologies to our world."

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