The Research and Technology organization of Boeing Computer Services is actively pursuing two projects using VR technology. According to David Mizell, manager of Virtual Systems Research & Technology, Boeing uses a concept known as Augmented Reality rather than the more classic VR configuration. Augmented Reality is a term which refers to the ability to see-through a computer generated display. The generated images are superimposed on top of reality. This is accomplished by projecting a computer image onto a half silvered mirror which the user looks through. This technique provides a very effective and intuitive way of "annotating" reality. The Boeing team is using a head set configured for augmented reality, which they call a HUDset (heads-up, see-through, head-mounted display).

The assembly of aircraft is a highly complex task which is difficult to automate. Many of the skills required demand dexterity not easily accomplished by robots. In addition airplanes consist of many small lot size parts and reprogramming robots for these quantities is an expensive prospect. To quote from Caudell and Mizell's paper "Someone once said that a Boeing 747 is not really an airplane, but five million parts flying in close formation." The particular task being addressed by Boeing's AR system is the assembly of wire harnesses. To quote from Caudell and Mizell's paper:

The first of these is the wiring formboard, where wire bundles are manufactured by laying individual wires across pegs on an annotated board. In today's factory, the board is annotated with a long, computer-generated plot of the wire bundle glued to sheets of plywood. The assembly worker must be able to read the paper drawing as the bundle grows. For this demonstration, a blank peg board represents the formboard. The computer indicates the position of the pegs for the current wire bundle assembly task for the user to install. After this, the paths of individual wires are indicated sequentially on the board as a series of bright red lines.

FIGURE 1. Boeing HUDSET (heads up display see through head mounted display)

The second application is connector assembly. After the wire bundle is assembled, the ending leads are inserted into a multipinned connector. The factory worker must consult a paper "map" of assignments, telling what wire goes into which pin. For the larger connectors, as many as fifty wires are mapped to pins, an error-prone task. In this demonstration, a red indicating line appears to protrude from the connector at the exact location where the current wire is to be inserted. A text window tells the user the number and description of the correct wire. The user moves to the next wire by again hitting the space-bar on the keyboard.