Foto Prof. Dr. Marius Swoboda

Vir­tu­al Rea­li­ty rea­dy for take-off: In con­ver­sa­ti­on with pro­fes­sor Dr. Mari­us Swo­bo­da, Rolls-Royce

Pro­fes­sor Dr. Mari­us Swo­bo­da, Head of Design Sys­tems Engi­nee­ring at Rolls-Roy­ce, talks about his work – The Bri­tish com­pa­ny Rolls-Roy­ce is deve­lo­ping the air­craft engi­nes of the future in Dah­le­witz: vir­tu­al rea­li­ty has long sin­ce beco­me rea­li­ty in avia­ti­on. We spo­ke with Prof. Swo­bo­da about 1:1 visua­li­sa­ti­on, engi­ne health moni­to­ring, safe­ty requi­re­ments, and potholes. 

Visua­li­sa­ti­on tech­no­lo­gies in avia­ti­on: how far are we, whe­re are we hea­ding, Pro­fes­sor Swoboda?

In gene­ral, visua­li­sa­ti­on tech­no­lo­gies in avia­ti­on are con­stant­ly incre­a­sing and are alrea­dy being deploy­ed in many are­as – from design through mar­ke­ting to trai­ning and ser­vices. At Rolls-Roy­ce Deutsch­land in Dah­le­witz, for examp­le, we are ope­ra­ting a 3D Vir­tu­al Rea­li­ty CAVE for the true-to-sca­le visua­li­sa­ti­on of engi­nes and their com­pon­ents. This not only allows a 1:1 visua­li­sa­ti­on of our pro­ducts, but also a world­wi­de coope­ra­ti­on with col­leagues on the col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve and opti­mal design of com­pon­ents. Inte­rest and demand have risen rapidly wit­hin the com­pa­ny sin­ce the faci­li­ty was estab­lis­hed – the immer­si­ve dis­play expe­ri­ence and the prac­ti­cal bene­fits have been con­vin­cing wit­hin a short peri­od of time.

Visua­li­sa­ti­on, robo­ti­sa­ti­on, AI in air­craft pro­duc­tion: how lar­ge is the “hands-on” share?

I can only speak for our com­pa­ny here. We are cur­r­ent­ly working, for examp­le, on approa­ches for the auto­ma­tic inspec­tion of assem­bled engi­ne com­pon­ents. The real com­pon­ents are filmed from many per­spec­ti­ves and com­pa­red elec­tro­ni­cal­ly with CAD design data. The soft­ware solu­ti­ons deploy­ed here inclu­de many AI approaches.

We are even fur­ther in terms of AI ser­vice. We are the pioneers of ‘Engi­ne Health Moni­to­ring’ (EHM), i.e. moni­to­ring engi­nes in the air. What began deca­des ago is now firm­ly estab­lis­hed with our cus­to­mers and is con­stant­ly being deve­lo­ped by us. For examp­le, we are incre­a­singly using AI to moni­tor the ope­ra­ting data of indi­vi­du­al engi­nes and eva­lua­te them tog­e­ther with a type’s ent­i­re fleet. What we learn from an engi­ne thus bene­fits the ope­ra­ti­on and safe­ty of all engi­nes – not only retro­spec­tively, but also as far as pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­res are con­cer­ned when cor­re­spon­ding trends emer­ge. We are alrea­dy record­ing thousands of para­me­ters for the latest Pearl engi­ne for Bom­bar­dier – initi­al­ly, they were only in the dozens.

Does that replace the pilot?

No – not at all. Our ope­ra­ti­ons cen­tres recei­ve the engi­ne data via satel­li­te. Our engi­neers track and eva­lua­te them – manu­al­ly and with the help of AI app­li­ca­ti­ons. If mea­su­res beco­me necessa­ry, our experts first talk to the ope­ra­tors of the air­craft, and the respon­si­ble manage­ment in turn talks to the pilots. The final decisi­on for an air­craft in the air is always taken by the captain.

Is ful­ly auto­ma­tic air­craft pro­duc­tion, at least mental­ly, clo­se at hand?

As has just been sta­ted: we can only speak about our field of acti­vi­ty. Engi­ne con­struc­tion is still lar­ge­ly a manu­fac­to­ry which, on the one hand, has some­thing to do with the extre­me­ly high safe­ty and qua­li­ty requi­re­ments and, on the other, with the ari­sing quan­ti­ties. We are stan­dar­di­sing to a con­si­derable extent and are, in part, pur­suing a plat­form stra­te­gy that is simi­lar to that of the auto­mo­ti­ve indus­try. Howe­ver, the level of auto­ma­ti­on is also a mat­ter of the “busi­ness case”. Plea­se bear in mind that nowa­days appro­xi­mate­ly 25,000 pas­sen­ger air­craft are being actively deploy­ed around the world. That is a very small num­ber com­pa­red to the num­ber of cars being lar­ge­ly pro­du­ced auto­ma­ti­cal­ly. This rela­ti­on will con­ti­nue: both Air­bus and Boe­ing deli­ve­r­ed around 700 air­craft in 2017. VW sold about 5 mil­li­on vehi­cles in the same year.

Take the buz­z­word of self-fly­ing air­craft: the auto­pi­lot of the ski­es has been around for a long time, it is only now that the tech­no­lo­gy is slow­ly arri­ving down on the ground. Why is the auto­pi­lot up in the ski­es so estab­lis­hed and there’s not­hing to be “ner­vous” about, but it’s a dif­fe­rent mat­ter when we talk about auto­no­mous driving ?

Once an air­craft is up in the air, pilots are usual­ly rare­ly con­fron­ted with any chal­len­ges from the immedia­te sur­roun­dings. On the road, howe­ver, an incredi­ble num­ber of chan­ging cons­traints have to be taken into account for dri­ving dyna­mics (traf­fic, potho­les, wal­kers, wea­ther, etc.). Sen­sor tech­no­lo­gy and infor­ma­ti­on pro­ces­sing have sim­ply not yet been deve­lo­ped enough to pro­cess the necessa­ry amounts of data in the car in real time and con­vert them into sui­ta­ble actions. Flight simu­la­tors for prac­ti­sing the necessa­ry actions have been avail­ab­le sin­ce the 1960s, but the first car dri­ving simu­la­tor was only laun­ched on the mar­ket around 1985 (Mer­ce­des Benz Mari­en­fel­de). This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that the flight mecha­nics are very good at describ­ing the move­ment of an air­pla­ne and the things usual­ly run very order­ly (inclu­ding take­off, lan­ding, gus­ting loads), but, on the other hand, the­re is sim­ply too much going on with road traffic!

As a Bri­tish com­pa­ny, you are rese­ar­ching and pro­du­cing just out­side of Ber­lin – Why? What poten­ti­al does Bran­den­burg have now and in the future?

That’s right, we’­ve been here for around 25 years and are steadi­ly evol­ving. Ori­gi­nal­ly, we were a joint ven­ture in Ger­ma­ny bet­ween BMW and our Eng­lish parent com­pa­ny, Rolls-Roy­ce plc. At that time, we were loo­king for a con­ve­ni­en­t­ly loca­ted and attrac­ti­ve loca­ti­on with access to qua­li­fied spe­cia­lists. That was the case in Bran­den­burg. This is a place whe­re we have a very open-min­ded, com­mit­ted sta­te government, who has always given us a lot of sup­port, as well as an aca­de­mi­cal­ly chal­len­ging envi­ron­ment with uni­ver­si­ties of app­lied sci­en­ces such as the BTU Cott­bus or the TU Ber­lin. Ever sin­ce the launch, we have suc­cee­ded in trans­fer­ring responsibility

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.