Searching for seemingly impossible solutions to complex space projects? Just leave it to Romanian engineers and their Augmented Reality programs.
”Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole…rapidly!”.
Next to the legendary words ”Houston, we have a problem”, Ed Harris’ line in Apollo 13 is probably the best in the entire movie. It told the story of an extreme situation that needed a seemingly impossible solution in just a matter of hours. Fast forwarding to the present future, a team of Enea engineers working on a revolutionary project in the Eastern town of Iași work on a project that can solve these kinds of technical issues in minutes, using advanced VR and augmented reality technologies. And, just like in the movie, they drink tons of coffee until they get it right.
Virtual and augmented reality systems are getting better and more affordable so they are gaining popularity, especially for games and infotainment applications. But beyond shooting zombies and Pokemon hunting, these technologies offer a whole new range of possibilities in more “serious” industries, aerospace being the most targeted, for flight simulators, airplane assembly etc. It allows for research groups to simulate space environments and design solutions to complex and unpredictable problems that occur in space projects such as satellite launching or planet exploration. Starting to sound like the coolest job on the planet yet? Well, it kind of is.
We may not be Jedi, but we know mind tricks
The Enea team in Iași is working close with researchers from the European Space Agency at designing a first ever augmented reality system meant to increase precision and efficiency in developing space projects. They use cutting edge technologies such as prototypes head-on units which monitor, analyze and offer solutions in real time during assembly works. Simply put, try to imagine an ”optical helping hand” for an expert mind. Kind of like mind tricks, but without the Force.
The system designed in Iași is capable of detecting and warning the user about potential components/setup issues that might occur in these space projects. One example is satellites. When building satellites in special high-tech factories, often the assembly work needs to be done by human experts, due to the special nature of the sensitive or experimental equipment. In these kinds of projects, often components are very tricky to place or even some components do not yet exist.
To save time and money, this project developed by the Enea team in Iași will create for the first time an augmented reality system that will allow the human experts working from inside on satellite equipment assembly to “see” live how existing components need to be used or put together, and even be able to test assembly with missing components. This is done by “seeing” 3D overlapped virtual images of such items.
Space might be the final frontier, but the process of exploring it extremely rigorous. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Working with such complex projects involves a level of testing that you cannot and will not find in – for example – commercial projects. The main difference in doing a project for such a highly standardized industry such as aerospace, versus for example a smartphone gaming app or mobile site is the fact that the code you write can actually hurt people if it is done less than perfect – so quality and super tests/validations are the main difference and a fundamental guideline for all researchers involved in the process. With the Augmented Reality project in Iași, Enea is at the forefront of some of the most advanced research field currently available, leading to solutions and applications with significant economic implications, that could, one day find their place in a virtual app store.
As any radical technology from Sci-Fi – remember the tablets from Star Trek? – at some point in the future, the Virtual and Augmented Reality will start to be a part of our everyday life. So, while trying to fit a „square peg into a round hole” the Enea team in Iași is working at the same time at preparing the stage for the future.