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Google Glass takes flight at Boeing

Al Sacco | July 14, 2016
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.

boeing smartglasses glass skylight

A Boeing technician working on a wire harness using Google Glass and the Skylight

The Skylight app supports touch gestures and voice commands, so a tech could, for example, pick up a box of components, and then begin the process by saying, "OK Skylight. Start wire bundle. Scan order." Next, she might say, "OK Skylight. Local search. 0447," to quickly launch an assembly roadmap for the wire No. 0447 on her smartglasses heads-up display.

boeing skylight google glass wire harness APX Labs

If she came across a problem she couldn't solve on her own, she could stream her point-of-view video of the wire harness to an expert in another location for assistance. Or she could check to see if there was another assembly video already available for playback on the smartglass display. 

"When you truly sit in the pilot seat, from the technicians point of view, having a hands-free device where the information is just always in the upper right corner of your eye really starts to make sense," DeStories says.

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."

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."


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