Boeing is teaming up with Epic Games, the developers of the popular online video game “Fortnite,” to shake up the aerospace training industry through advanced use of virtual and augmented reality.
Q: You recently spoke at a Boeing workshop event, called Unreal Engine Build, with the CTO from Epic Games—what’s going on?
A: Epic Games makes the Unreal Engine, which is a state-of-the-art, real-time 3D engine that has potential application in use cases across our whole product life cycle. It sounds a little far out, but we’re applying that capability to create some really exciting, new, immersive learning capabilities in the extended reality space. It’s an example of how we’re looking outside our industry for opportunities to accelerate and scale our development of innovative capabilities.
Q: So, how are you leveraging extended reality for training?
A: XR, or extended reality, is one of several key technologies that will enable us to truly transform training and learning for our industry. We’re using it to create lighter, more portable learning solutions that students can access anytime, anywhere. From tablet-based procedures and systems trainers all the way up to highly realistic, fully immersive virtual reality solutions where aspects such as muscle memory can be trained, these environments give students more control of their learning journey.
This has the potential to change the game, as the reliance on expensive, fixed training equipment becomes less of a factor. We can develop and deliver new training scenarios much more rapidly to respond to emergent needs, and we can enable more collaborative learning environments. It also opens up new possibilities for training in areas that we simply could not address in a simulated environment using traditional approaches.
To fly and maintain the growing world fleet, we estimate that over 2.1 million new pilots, technicians and cabin crew will be required over the next two decades. This is just the civil aviation market. Our government customers face similar challenges. It’s essential that we work together as an industry to create more efficient ways to bring new personnel through the pipeline—by helping them learn more efficiently and by helping them perform more efficiently once on the job.
Q: How else is technology changing the way we train pilots, technicians and cabin crew?
A: Digital is no longer a differentiator—it’s an expectation. The next generation of crew members and technicians will expect to learn and work in different ways—mobile, connected and on-demand—that’s just how life is now.
We’re using mobile and web solutions to create a more connected experience for our students. Everything from registration and check-in to receiving digital learning content and delivering credentials will be integrated into one seamless experience. We’re creating a better experience and better outcomes for our customers.
Boeing AnalytX combined with artificial intelligence will also drive significant changes. Today’s approach to training is still very much “one size fits all.” The future will be much more adaptive. We can derive tremendous insight from data collected in training and operations and use it to adapt learning to the needs of an individual or a fleet. In addition, we are creating more intelligent interfaces into the information our pilots and technicians need to do their jobs. I think we will increasingly see a shift in the industry where training is viewed as not just a means of compliance but as an opportunity to drive improved human performance.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in bringing about technological changes?
A: It’s easy to focus solely on the technology when thinking about challenges, and there are certainly some areas there that need further maturation. We’ll need better resolution and field of view for certain virtual reality learning applications, as well as motion cuing and the ability to provide haptic feedback. We’ll need improvements in daylight operations, field of view and the ability to anchor to real-world objects for many augmented reality learning applications. Cost and form factor are issues as well. And we’re just at the tip of the iceberg for what can be done with data analytics and AI. I’m confident these and other challenges will be addressed.
That said, the transformation we’re creating here is about much more than technology—it involves people, processes and culture—and this is where the real challenge lies. We’re fundamentally changing the way our customers learn and do their jobs. We will need engagement and buy-in from a broad range of stakeholders across the industry. Getting them involved early will be key to our success.
None of this will happen overnight, and we’ll need to be patient as we make the transition. We won’t eliminate the need for full-motion simulators anytime soon, perhaps ever, and initial solutions might only supplement existing training programs. These can still create significantly better outcomes for our customers, and they put us in a position to get in the game and learn together with our customers.
Q: So when are we likely to see the first virtual reality learning solutions in the field?
A: They’re already out there. We’ve fielded VR maintenance training solutions for our government customers and have a range of lighter-weight tablet and desktop virtual trainers for a variety of applications. That said, we’re definitely at the start of this journey. We have some exciting new capabilities in development, and we continue to measure the effectiveness of these new approaches as we explore how to integrate them into the learning experience. And, as always, we’ll continue to look across other industries like gaming for opportunities to accelerate our results.