Boeing Says It's Going to Build a New Airplane Model. In the Metaverse?

Welcome to Web 3.0.
Brad Bergan
A Boeing airplane (left), and a digital twin of New York (right).1, 2

It's happening.

Major human-focused industries are injecting virtual interactions into the very design of next-gen vehicles, as Boeing announced that its 3D engineering designs will have digital twins that speak to each other via "robots" that converse, while human mechanics at factories throughout the world will be linked via $3,500 HoloLens headsets developed by Microsoft itself, according to an initial report from Reuters.

In other words, Boeing just took a major step into Web 3.0, with airline service operations and production becoming unified within a single digital ecosystem. And it could happen in just two years.

Boeing wants to enter 2022 fighting for engineering dominance

Critics of Boeing cite the firm's previous commitments to triggering an imminent digital revolution. But insiders familiar with Boeing's announcement say its general aims to improve safety and quality have gained a stronger sense of urgency and significance through the aerospace company's struggles with several threats. Nevertheless, Boeing plans to fly into 2022 fighting for its engineering dominance in the industry following the 737 MAX crisis, while also preparing for a future aircraft program in the coming decade. But make no mistake, this is a $15-billion gamble. And to make good on its pledge, Boeing will also have to develop a means of preventing manufacturing issues, like the structural flaws that delayed its 787 Dreamliner in 2021.

"It's about strengthening engineering," said Greg Hyslop, Boeing's chief engineer, in his first interview in nearly two years, according to the Reuters report. "We are talking about changing the way we work across the entire company." Years of intense market competition have caused Boeing's books to swell with orders amid a new economic war with Airbus (in Europe), but specifically on the factory floor. Guillaume Faury, the chief executive of Airbus who's also a former automobile research head, has previously committed to "invent new production systems and leverage the power of data" to optimize its industrial system, said the report.

A 'digital thread' will track every modicum of Boeing's production

By contrast, Boeing's approach has typically focused on incremental advances without straying from specific jet programs or tooling, eschewing more comprehensive or systemic moves that aptly describe Hyslop's new digital direction. With both airplane firms pushing at the same time, it's hard to deny a global push into digital immersion. For example, automakers including Ford, in addition to social media firms Facebook (now "Meta") are transforming office and factory labor into an immersive and virtual world that experts are beginning to call "the metaverse," or web 3.0. But how can a shared virtual space that employs augmented reality interfaces alter or enhance the field of aviation?

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Boeing, much like Airbus, wants its next forthcoming aircraft to build and blend 3D "digital twin" replicas of physical prototype jets into assembly and production processes. This will be extremely useful for engineers on the assembly line and executives knee-deep in strategic decision-making processes. And, even years after new airplane models have begun commercial service, the digital twin, supported by a "digital thread", will provide a traceable story that tracks every modicum of information in the aircraft's history — from conceptual stages to international scale-up.

This was developing news and was updated as new information became available.

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