Google Glass takes flight at Boeing

Aerospace giant Boeing recently completed a successful Google Glass pilot, reducing production time of aircraft 'wire harnesses' and chopping related error rates in half. The company also says it is 'very close' to launching a live smartglass system.

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Why Boeing selected Skylight

One reason Boeing chose Skylight is the platform's ability to adapt to the company's complex set of legacy systems, including its manufacturing execution system (MES), according to DeStories. Those databases are "fairly organic," because some of the systems were legacy carryovers from Boeing's acquisition of Hughes Electronics' space and communications business in 2000 and its McDonnell-Douglas buy in 1996, among others. "We didn't need to change our backend databases," he says.

DeStories says Skylight is "kind of like an OS for wearables," because it works across device types and isn't restricted to Glass. 

To vet the system without putting any sensitive Boeing information at risk, the team created an isolated internal test network. "We could load data that we know is non-sensitive, or very specific to just that project, and that's what we were showing with Skylight out in the production area," DeStories says. "We had a snapshot of the wire harness database on that service and users were able to pull up their wire harness information that is in production."

[Related: How a Boston hospital uses Google Glass to save lives]

From an IT perspective, it wasn't a live system, but techs used Glass and Skylight on the floor for standard procedures, and "they wouldn't know the difference," Tsai says.

The system worked well on the isolated test network the team created as part of the pilot, but connecting Skylight and that network was far from simple. "That's definitely the hardest process, especially with these organic databases," Tsai says. "The wire harness system, when we initially had APX do that, took about two months from beginning to a rollout solution for commercial wire harnesses."

Beyond Boeing's smartglass pilot

AR applications and systems are expected to represent a $105 billion market for U.S. enterprises within the next 15 years, according to Index AR Solutions, a company that builds custom enterprise AR apps. That number includes $49 billion in hardware, $45 billion in related services and $11 billion in software. In other words, AR and related wearables represent a major opportunity for businesses, one that Boeing is well-positioned to capitalize on.

During the pilot, DeStories says Glass and Skylight helped its wire harness workers decrease the assembly time by 25 percent and it significantly reduced error rates. 


Now that Boeing's Glass pilot has come to an end, it's time to address the remaining hurdles before an official release. "The big pain point here is getting on the network, from an information security perspective," DeStories says. "For IT to say, 'Hey, we're going to let everything work on the network,' we have to make sure we have information security vetted, we have to make sure we know what kind of IT support we're going to need behind it. These are the questions we're answering right now, and we feel like we're very close to being on a truly connected solution." 

Future is bright for smartglasses at Boeing

During the five years since DeStories joined the company, he says Boeing has seen "a tsunami wave of change from an IT perspective." And Project Juggernaut, in particular, has come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

"When we started [Project Juggernaut], there was no dedicated group, because [smartglasses were] still a new technology," he says. "We initially didn't get much IT support, but now it's starting to pan out, and we're starting to show results." For example, in January, the company dedicated a group within its One Boeing Mobile division, the IT unit that's in charge of bringing new technologies to its workforce, to Project Juggernaut. 

"If you look at Boeing, they've got something like a 5,000 plane backlog that they're under contract to build," says APX Labs' Ballard. "If they want to deliver those planes faster, they're not building new factories. They're trying to figure out how to remove inefficiencies in their processes with the people in the buildings they already have … It just so happens that wearables are compelling devices to do that."

The company's use of smartglasses could eventually extend far beyond wire assembly. Boeing researchers say the technology could be used anywhere in its manufacturing and assembly areas where staffers use paper instructions. Boeing says it's investigating how Glass could be put to use aboard NASA's International Space Station, as well. 

The company also isn't committed exclusively to Glass and is open to the possibility of rolling out additional smartglass makes and models in the future, DeStories says. For now, however, Glass is the best tool for the job, and it is poised to become a genuine game-changer on the assembly floors of the world's largest aerospace firm, possibly even hundreds of miles above the earth's surface.

This story, "Google Glass takes flight at Boeing" was originally published by CIO.

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