Western Michigan College of Aviation associate professor Lori Brown harnessed the advantages of augmented reality technology to make learning come alive for aviation students. She designed a virtual but realistic holographic learning system called JetXplore through a partner spotlight program with Microsoft so students could see, touch, and feel the aircraft systems they studied in class.

Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens technology creates a realistic depiction of flight controls, systems, and procedures. This creates a far more engaging learning environment for Brown’s students and adds a level of understanding that would be impossible to replicate in a traditional classroom setting. Professor Brown noted that even though she could not afford to bring a brand-new Boeing 787 plane to her class, mixed reality enables her to bring a virtualized 787 into the learning environment.

The digital revolution allowed her to bridge the gap between a classroom and a flight simulator. “I tried virtual reality, and I liked it, but I didn’t like it isolating the students from the instructors and in aviation, we work as a group,” she noted.

That led to the development of the PC-based program that became JetXplore. “Students can interact with crews and instructors, not wires. We can’t replace the simulator but we certainly can enhance it and better prepare the students.”

The aircraft systems instructor noted the medical community used HoloLens technology to peer inside a human body and adapted it to explore the inside of a turbofan engine. She wanted students to see inside and interact with aircraft components and compared the learning process to “seeing the bones inside a human body."

Brown feels that HoloLens augmented reality is providing an advantage to her students by teaching familiarity before they enter professional aviation careers.

“With the JetExplore app I created, you can picture yourself inside the jet cockpit. You are interacting with a holograph and can actually start the engines,” and perform other tasks to increase understanding in real-world aviation scenarios. “It’s a new way of training. I’ve seen retention improvement and that’s the main piece” of the learning puzzle.

If she could look into a crystal ball, Brown said future adaptations might include instructing classes “in three or four places at the same time” through telepresence or teleporting. She is currently developing the HangAR, a mobile augmented reality learning space and virtual airport.

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