Smart Glasses and Logbooks: The Brave New World of MROby John Persinos | April 8, 2018

Vuzix smart glasses
Vuzix smart glasses

The hottest and newest trend in logbook entries? Augmented reality (AR) smart glasses. It’s where science fiction is becoming science fact.

Once in a generation, a breakthrough technology comes along that revolutionizes society. Electricity, telephony, railroads, aviation, radio, television, personal computing, digitization… these game-changers seemed to come from nowhere.

The latest paradigm shift: augmented reality (AR), embedded in what are known as “smart glasses.”

AR is transforming industries of all kinds. And right now, it’s changing the way aviation maintenance technicians use log books. That’s right — AR is starting to pervade the routine of inputting MRO data. Logbook entries may seem like a mundane task, but they’re actually quite crucial.

First, let’s clarify our definitions. Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-simulated reality that’s an immersive experience. Think video games.

Augmented reality is a real-time view of an actual physical environment whose elements are supplemented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video or graphics. AR increasingly entails enterprise applications for practical commercial uses.

Probably the best popular depiction of AR in action is the 2002 sci-fi movie Minority Report. For aviation mechanics, Hollywood fantasy is meeting operational reality. This trend is changing the aircraft maintenance logbook entry template. More data, accompanied by real-time images and video, will become the norm.

FAA maintenance logbook entry requirements still haven’t caught up to the AR revolution. The aircraft maintenance logbook entry template hasn’t changed much from the days of paper; it’s simply been digitized. But mechanics and MRO shops that want to stay in the vanguard of the latest technologies are finding ways to use AR to improve practices.

Smart Glasses: Vision of the Future

Juniper Research reports that by 2021, one out of every 10 wearable devices will be smart glasses. Revenues from these products are forecast to increase from $327 million this year to $9 billion in 2021.

Juniper reports that the number of workers in the U.S. who use smart glasses is expected to grow, from 400,000 in 2017 to more than 14 million by 2025. Companies are forecast to spend more than $30 billion on smart glass hardware during the same time frame.

There’s a lot of pressure to move to digitizing. This trend has been underway for a while, of course, but many MRO shops are behind the eight ball. In tandem with the move to digitization is the push toward smart glasses. General Electric and other OEMs are deploying smart glasses into the field, for logbook entry, training, you name it.

A pioneer in AR smart glasses is a company called Vuzix. This U.S. tech firm makes M100 smart glasses, an Android-based wearable computer with several pre-installed apps, enhanced with an onboard processor, recording features and wireless connectivity. The M100 is designed for a wide variety of business-related functions. The company makes an upgraded and enhanced version called the M300.

Paul Boris, chief operating officer at Vuzix, says smart glasses are revolutionizing MRO. Before joining Vuzix, Boris worked at GE Digital, creating “smart factories” for General Electric that use disruptive technology for manufacturing. GE is a global industrial colossus, so when it comes to disruptive technology, Boris knows what he’s talking about.

“Our M100 and M300 AR smart glasses are the devices that aviation mechanics increasingly use throughout the enterprise,” Boris said. “AR smart glasses are transforming mechanic training as well as logbook entry. They also allow operators to keep track of inventory and monitor the supply chain.”

With smart glasses, mechanics can input logbook data accompanied by photos and video, all logged instantaneously. The mechanic can provide supervisors with all the informational context that they need. Part of that context is geographical. With smart glasses, the mechanic can prove: I was right there.

If a problem suddenly comes up and the mechanic needs an expert right away, the traditional means of conference might be through, say, Facetime on a smartphone. But that’s not secure and it’s not efficient.

“Now, with smart glasses, the mechanic can conduct this informational exchange with other parties much faster and converse with the data right in front of them,” Boris explained. “The experts they’re conferring with can literally look over the mechanic’s shoulder.”

Boris cited a common problem in daily MRO work: “Mechanics are stuck with a huge amount of spreadsheets, binders, and all kinds of paperwork.”

He cited aircraft maintenance logbook entry examples — the conventional way of making them, versus the smart glass way.

“A conventional logbook entry might contain a few cryptic words. But now, mechanics can walk directly around and through the aircraft, wearing AR smart glasses, and input the data in real time from the physical location,” he said. “Data and pictures are logged in, simultaneously. Smart glasses allow proven proximity to the matter at hand. It makes for better compliance. These devices feature forward facing cameras, for better, more accurate data. If ever contested, the information is inarguable.”

Keeping Litigation at Bay

Mike Simmons, president of Plane Data, also attests to the increasing use and importance of AR smart glasses in logbook entries. “And yet, the aviation press rarely talks about this huge trend,” Simmons said. “It usually takes time for mainstream thinking to catch up to technology.”

Plane Data appraises and documents aircraft for prospective buyers and lessors. The firm’s work encompasses many related areas, including MRO. “In MRO, we make sure logbook entries pass muster and don’t present potential liability problems,” Simmons explained.

From Simmons’ standpoint and from the many years he’s seen MRO cases in court, the more detailed a logbook entry can be, the better.

“I’ve seen log book entries that simply say: ‘Repaired Damage.’ Well, what the heck does that mean? This sort of entry is all too common,” Simmons lamented. “And it raises red flags. Sure, maybe it was a simple matter, such as routine maintenance. But aviation mechanics need to provide more details. Many MRO shops tend to minimize the data in logbook entries. They figure that less is more. But that’s a mistake.”

The upshot with logbooks: Don’t be vague. “If a regulator or appraiser thinks the mechanic is being less than forthcoming, they are less likely to give them the benefit of a doubt,” Simmons said.

He imparted this final advice to mechanics: “As you make a logbook entry, always ask yourself: How would this entry sound if I read it out loud in a courtroom? So, instead of inputting something like ‘We complied with annual maintenance,’ flesh out the details. Smart glasses are an optimal way to provide those details.”