Virtual reality and augmented reality: their naval-defence applications
From the design of a military vessel to its dismantlement, the innovations brought by virtual reality and augmented reality comprise numerous benefits. Thanks to these technologies, DCNS supports the development of new products and the operational missions conducted by the crews. DCNS invested very early in these virtual-reality technologies that contribute to the future of its industry. Interview with our expert, Yann Bouju.
Technologies related to virtual reality and augmented reality are enjoying significant success. How did the defence industry appropriate these innovations for vessel design?
Over the last thirty years, the dematerialization of data, computer-aided design (CAD) and the creation of digital mock-ups have turned design habits on their heads. The paper drawing has become the digital mock-up and its use has opened the way for a multitude of innovative applications that are much more immersive.
The creation of new products has taken on another dimension in going from 2D to 3D, thus allowing a realistic immersion in the future product.
Virtual reality allows the architects and the different vessel system managers to coordinate with each other to create the optimum layout and ergonomics for the vessels spaces, workstations and other items of equipment. Numerous constraints must be taken into account for the installation of the various items of equipment and their electrical, fluid and network connections. Such equipment must be integrated into restricted spaces whilst at the same time taking into account the needs of the future crew for the operation of the vessel.
What are the benefits for the naval-defence sector?
Beyond the digital mock-up, major industries such as DCNS have deployed cutting-edge data systems to design and develop products according to a detailed process called Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).
PLM contributes to the development of the professional and efficient use of virtual reality. Over several decades, it provides access to all product-related data, its digital mock-up and its specifications throughout its design, construction and, in the future, its operational life.
As of the 1990s, DCNS recognized the advantages of these technologies and very quickly adopted them. The Group initiated the first computer-aided design tests at the same time as its PLM on the pre-design and design phases of its vessels (Lafayette frigate, Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier). For over 10 years, and based on these systems, virtual reality has been fully integrated into the design and production processes. It provides support for the realization of our products, which are amongst the most complex in the world, such as nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
How do these new technologies facilitate vessel design and construction?
Virtual reality represents a unique means of sharing within the multidisciplinary design teams and with our partners, clients or prospects. The virtual world is a place where the future product can be intuitively visualized, allowing us to project ourselves into the future vessel and experience it before it is built. The client can thus propose his expertise and operational experience to ensure that needs are taken into account at an early stage. We can thus work on the ergonomics of the workstations or prepare future maintenance actions, in particular.
“Virtual reality a unique means of sharing within the multidisciplinary design teams and a precious tool to better anticipate and prepare the construction processes.”
It has also proven itself to be a precious tool to better anticipate and prepare the work of the teams, which can immerse themselves in a coherent virtual environment as the construction progresses. The scheduling and organization of work can thus be better handled and prepared, such as by performing virtually the future operations that need to be reproduced in the shipyard, to be better prepared and minimize workplace health and safety issues.
How does augmented reality provide support for the navy’s operational missions?
During operations, augmented reality technologies can provide high-level information directly within the operator’s visual field. This can be superimposed over the real world to provide support for the crew’s missions. The aim is to facilitate the understanding of a situation to speed up decision making and avoid errors under operational conditions that can sometimes be complex: navigation in confined waters, threats and attacks very close to the vessel, etc. The cognitive efforts are thus more focused on the operation to be performed than on the use of the technical system itself. These additional pieces of information called “augmentations” facilitate amongst other things the interpretation of navigation or tactical data originating from the vessel’s sensors (radars, sonars, navigation systems, etc.).
What evolutions are the DCNS teams currently working on?
DCNS has developed the NextGen Combat Bridge, which integrates all new on-board technologies such as augmented reality. Indeed, we presented this to the world’s navies at the Euronaval 2014 trade-fair.
In addition, we are reflecting on the best way to integrate virtual reality into our navy training offering. As a complement to 1-to-1 scale simulators suited to a given type of vessel or use, these technologies offer the advantage of significant flexibility both in terms of infrastructural compactness and multiplicity of uses. Whether for initial training or operational training, DCNS can propose a virtual training environment that is suited to the handling of both corvettes and aircraft carriers.
DCNS is member of the AFRV (Association Française de Réalité Virtuelle – French Virtual Reality Association) and participated in the Laval Virtual Exhibition through technical presentations and and workshops relating to the uses of Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Virtual reality: innovative process providing 3D immersion in an artificial digital environment projected onto a large screen.
Augmented reality: a mixture of reality and high-level information, these technologies provide a better vision of the real world to facilitate understanding and optimize actions.
Digital mock-up: 3D digital representation of a product based on computer-aided design software.