The innovative software RHEA (Realistic Human Ergonomic Analysis) is the result of more than a decade of creating virtual 3-D environments that enable engineers to interact with the computer-generated mockups used in the aerospace and defence sectors. RHEA enables operators to 'enter' and interact with a full-scale 3-D digital model by wearing special goggles, head-mounted displays, or even as an avatar – an artificial figure with human dimensions.
The initial application of RHEA was at Eurocopter's Marignane facility in France, where it was used in designing the cockpit for the company’s new EC175 helicopter. With RHEA, engineers could realistically confirm the visibility for pilots both inside and outside the cockpit, along crewmembers’ capability to reach switches and controls from their seats.
Another use was determining accessibility of the EC175's main rotor for maintenance, including tools design that allows personnel to reach the rotor for inspections and repairs. Following Eurocopter's success with RHEA, the software subsequently was put into service by Airbus, where it is employed at Toulouse and St. Nazaire in France, as well as Hamburg, Germany in preparing the A350 XWB aircrfat's design and production. RHEA's virtual reality world also will be used in a new application at St. Nazaire beginning this year, as the software will help train production workers who soon will be building the A350 XWB. RHEA also is in operation at Astrium's Bordeaux, France facility, where it is being evaluated in functions that range from manufacturing to operability and maintenance.
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According to an Airbus evaluation, the advantages of the RHEA system include: 49% better perception of the digital mock-up (realism, full-scale); 29% improvement in digital mock-up analysis (clashes, instability, maintainability, accessibility); and 9% improvement in ease of use.
A virtual window
EADS Innovation Works is now working on adapting RHEA as a mixed reality-based visualisation system that would enable traditional physical mock-ups of the fuselage, cabin interiors and major airframe components to be further enriched by using display devices such as a tablet PC or iPhone/iPad as a virtual window. This visualisation is accomplished by using different tracking technologies to geo-localise the display device within the real environment, creating a 'see-through' view wherever the screen covers the user’s field of view.
In the example of an airliner’s cabin mock-up, the visualisation allows a user to introduce different colour variations or additional interior furnishings, which are 'virtually' overlaid on the physical mock-up when viewed with the display device. The system may also be used to assess interior lighting scenarios of the aircraft, determine the visibility of signage and emergency placards, as well as provide an idea of how different surface materials and finishing would look.
For engineering-related applications, the mixed reality-based visualisation system could provide a better insight into the ergonomics of cockpit layouts and system configurations, while maintenance accessibility would be validated by providing an X-ray-like view through the cabin structure to display wiring positions.