Bell turned heads when it unveiled its FCX-001 concept helicopter at the Heli Expo 2017 show. Now, more than 3 years later, Bell insiders discussed how Bell used AR and VR to create that concept, and how Bell is using AR and VR today to cut prototyping times for new products like the Nexus eVTOL urban air taxi model.
Bell’s Levi Bilbrey and Cameron Ayres highlighted the many advantages these technologies carry to the table. “The road to a new aircraft begins with the traditional sketch making, albeit now done more rapidly thanks to modern animation tools. That technology facilitates faster transition into the “3D space,” once the exclusive purview of engineering programs such as Catia or SolidWorks.” – Bilbrey, Manager of Creative Services
“We’ re able to jump right into a physical space and look around and actually move these elements around the person in real-time which that’s been that big leap forward,” said Bilbrey. “[In the past] this was stuff you couldn’t tell until you built a physical model to sit in of cardboard, foam, or plywood to really get that 3D awareness. Here [with virtual reality] we’re able to do that really rapidly and then advance the design.”
– Bilbrey Manager of Creative Services.
While the main benefit of using virtual reality to design a new product is majorly overall program speed, it also provides real-time feedback from both pilot and passenger focus groups that can soon be included into the design, Bilbrey said, producing an end-result that is not just visually compelling, but more spontaneous and user-friendly. The technology makes client collaboration more immediate and compelling. The association required for this result works not unlike successful video game engines, Bilbrey said.
“I don’t know that 15 years ago a game designer would have made sense to hire at Bell, but I can speak from firsthand experience that having a background in game design and serious games [is helpful],” said Ayres, an innovation engineering specialist. “Rapid iterative development is something we need to have moving forward.” However, Ayres added that the process of incorporating game design technology into virtual reality tools was “not easy.” – Bilbrey Manager of Creative Services.
At Bell, Bilbrey and Ayres also created an internal interactive council to encourage best practices and share information with other departments within the company. The council not only cross-share information but also stands up other small project teams at Bell.