Airbus Bets Microsoft Mixed Reality Will Boost Aircraft Production

Airbus, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, announced Monday it plans to ramp up production in coming decades with help from hologram-based virtual reality technology developed by Microsoft.

Netherlands-based Airbus says it will equip some of its aircraft and equipment designers with HoloLens technology developed by Redmond, WA-based Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). The HoloLens system encompasses a “mixed reality” headset that brings interactive holograms to life in the real environment of users.

Airbus has been in business for more than four decades, and says it has built about 10,000 aircraft in that time. Now, the company is aiming to build 20,000 aircraft over the next 20 years, and Airbus says holographic technology will be key to helping its employees hit that target.

“To manufacture more aircraft faster … we need to enable our workers to be much better equipped,” Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus’ executive vice president of engineering, says in a prepared statement. “We intend to make an intense use of mixed reality, and that’s why we’ve partnered with Microsoft.”

The partnership highlights how virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, which companies such as Facebook-owned Oculus have marketed heavily to consumers, are increasingly being deployed in workplaces.

Microsoft’s visualization tools can, for instance, allow a production worker at Airbus whose hands are full to display a set of instructions via holographic projection, on command. Airbus says it also uses HoloLens to virtually test designs of products that appear to be ready to manufacture, and to train employees on using machines and equipment for their jobs.

For the past four years, the companies have been collaborating to adapt Microsoft’s mixed-reality technology to suit the needs of Airbus’ workforce, they say. Starting this week, Airbus plans to begin selling mixed reality software applications in partnership with Microsoft. These applications are designed to run on HoloLens 2, a new headset model Microsoft released earlier this year. Buyers are likely to include airlines; for example, Japan Airlines uses a mixed reality program to train some of its employees, Airbus says.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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