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Mastering Machinery with Mixed Reality: How HTX Labs and Varjo Are Transforming Aircraft Maintenance Training

Spatial learning is emerging as a new approach to complement traditional hands-on training methods in maintenance training.

Benefits of virtual and mixed reality for maintenance training:

Since 2017, Houston-based HTX Labs has been advancing learning technologies, working closely with the U.S. Air Force to provide scalable, immersive aircraft maintenance training through its EMPACT® platform.
  • Hands-On Skills: Providing an interactive environment that closely mimics real-world scenarios, allowing trainees to learn by doing
  • Improved Safety: Eliminating the risks associated with physical training on heavy or complex machinery
  • Cost Savings: Reducing the need for physical equipment and personnel for training, leading to significant cost reductions in setting up and maintaining training programs
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Platforms can be easily scaled and shared, and enable easier access to complex or logistically difficult hardware systems
  • Adaptable Environments: Ability to accommodate new training modules or updates to existing programs without substantial additional investment
  • Performance Measurement and Feedback: Platform offering tools for quantifying performance and providing immediate feedback

Redefining Skill Development with Spatial Learning

Understanding the technical intricacies and the heartbeat of machinery requires more than just theoretical knowledge. At the core of preparing new mechanics for the workforce is comprehensive, hands-on maintenance training, consisting of the essential skills and knowledge required to upkeep, repair, and optimize various machines, hardware solutions, and equipment.

Traditionally, this training has demanded significant investment in physical training sites, a range of tools and supplies, and access to experienced instructors.

Simulated maintenance training is emerging as a new approach to complement traditional hands-on training methods. Virtual and mixed reality (VR & MR) simulations can now be used to replicate real-world scenarios, allowing trainees interact with virtual tools and components as if they were in a physical setting.

Trainees can perform tasks, correct errors, and understand operational dynamics without the risk of costly mistakes or the pressure of a real-world timeline. Learning by doing enhances understanding and retention of maintenance procedures without the need for expensive facilities or specialized equipment.

End-to-end Solution for Training Experiences

Since 2017, Houston-based commercial software company HTX Labs has been on a mission to accelerate the future of learning. The company collaborates closely with the U.S. Air Force, particularly in the area of aircraft maintenance training, to deliver seamless, scalable, and highly immersive training experiences with its EMPACT® platform.

EMPACT® is HTX Labs’ end-to-end solution engineered to support a full spectrum of capabilities, from creating engaging content to managing user identity and supporting the quantification of performance. Its comprehensive training ecosystem can be initiated at any stage of organizational development and expanded to meet the demands of large-scale operational deployments.

EMPACT® is designed to mirror the real-world challenges trainees will face, allowing them to hone the practical skills essential for high-stakes environments.

Hands-on Learning for Aircraft Maintenance Tasks with Mixed Reality

mixed reality mechanics training

Using virtual and mixed reality in aircraft maintenance training offers trainees the benefit of visualizing intricate airframe systems within an immersive environment. Learners can interact with an airframe in a fully realistic cockpit, toggling switches, and witnessing the intricacies of avionics systems—all rendered with photorealistic fidelity. This spatial presentation helps with comprehending the complexities of maintenance tasks more effectively and aligns closely with human cognitive abilities.

Mixed reality with Varjo headsets adds a valuable new dimension to the simulation by enabling the merging of virtual and real-world elements with video passthrough technology. This seamless integration enables learners to look through the cockpit glass, converse with instructors or peers present in the physical environment, and immediately apply their learning from these interactions in a tangible context.

Combined with Varjo’s integrated eye tracking, the solution enables the measuring and quantification of the training’s impact, such as comparing the performance of instructors to students. “We’re very excited about positioning this headset now also in the research context where you can better understand what the training in the virtual world has led to in the real world,” says Javier Fadul, Director of Innovation and Co-Founder at HTX Labs.

Flexibility and Efficiency for Evolving Training Demands

With a mixed reality solution, trainees can practice complex maintenance tasks in a risk-free virtual environment, gain confidence, and build proficiency before transitioning to real-world applications. This approach not only reduces the initial investment in physical training infrastructure but also enables a more flexible and responsive training regimen that can be tailored to the specific needs of the learners and the evolving demands of the industry.

“We’ve seen a lot of benefit in the impact that this kind of technology can have in training, both in the sense of time savings but also in the ability of them to perform in the real world directly,” Fadul says.

With the added benefit of the EMPACT® platform, organizations can rapidly deploy and scale their training programs. The solution and hardware system can be brought directly to the point of need on-site, allowing trainees to practice, learn by doing and learn from each other in a way that’s much more accessible compared to traditional training methods.

The platform offers the subject matter experts facilitating the training the ability to record and revise training content and swiftly distribute it to trainees, regardless of their geographical locations. This flexibility significantly expedites the deployment of training, ensuring that a larger number of trainees can access high-quality, consistent training resources without delay.

VR maintenance training

“Varjo continues to push the edge of what's possible, especially around the fidelity of the visuals and the integrations that are possible with a system connected to a very powerful simulation environment.”


Elevating Training Scenarios with Superior Fidelity, Ergonomics and Security

mixed reality mechanics trainingEMPACT® supports a broad range of devices, but Varjo headsets present many unique added benefits for simulated training. The new Varjo XR-4 Series offers industry-leading fidelity and field of view, and the improvements in ergonomic design ensure comfort for extended use. “The ergonomics have been really redefined. It’s super important, especially in a field where you’re wearing the headsets for a very significant amount of time,” says Fadul.

With Varjo, every detail is crisp and clear. The high-resolution displays allow trainees to read even the smallest labels and buttons within a simulated cockpit, where precision in understanding task orders and procedural intricacies can make a significant difference.

“It’s something that our customers have been asking for,” Fadul notes. “As Varjo continues to deliver these new, more immersive displays, those capabilities will help us tailor more types of training scenarios.”

Varjo XR-4 Series’ advancements in audio capabilities further enhance the simulated experience, allowing trainees to accurately identify sounds corresponding to specific maintenance activities.

“The spatial awareness of the simulation environments is amplified by the ability to recognize where sounds come from in the training context,” Fadul explains. “This is very important, as they can actually simulate both the way that things should sound when things are going right and what you would hear if something goes wrong.”

Additionally, the Varjo XR-4 Series includes a specialized variant, Varjo XR-4 Secure Edition tailor made for secure environments, ensuring full TAA compliancy and offline connectivity. The ability to deliver devices into a more private and secure context is a crucial proposition for high-security level customers. “The fact that Varjo team has been able to deliver a more secure headset is leading the way, allowing us to deliver secure systems and training in a more protected environment,” says Fadul.

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