Imagine having the ability to instantly access needed technical manuals and part data without having to stop your work to search through heavy hardcovers or scroll through a digital text.
That’s the goal of a current CTMA project that is producing the T-Glass, a wearable eyepiece with audible, hands-free search functions and data-gathering capabilities. While wearing the T-Glass, maintainers will be able to access needed data, in the periphery of their line of sight, so they can continue their work.
Yet it’s not only maintainers who will benefit from the T-Glass; it will also be a useful tool for electricians working on-site, miners working underground, field technicians installing cable TV and Internet, mechanics repairing vehicles, and even astronauts working on satellites or the International Space Station.
Launched in 2020, the first phase of the project, called Augmented Reality for Streamlined Equipment Maintenance, brought together the expertise of the US Marine Corps (USMC), NAVSEA, NAVAIR, and the Joint Technology Exchange Group (JTEG). The project team used the Marine Corp’s data and processes as a surrogate for industry to demonstrate how the T-Glass could improve commercial inspection and maintenance operations.
“The goal of this project was to create a maintenance-focused augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) system called the T-Glass that can facilitate acquiring and storing supply chain metrics,” said Lt. Col. AJ Scotti, who managed the project for the USMC. “The scope of work was initiated by Marine Corps reservists, attached to the 4th Marine Logistics Group. They wanted to find a way to manage supply chain metrics in real time. Normally, Marines have to keystroke all our metrics into a computer. This project’s T-Glass can focus on an item so that it can be recognized, counted, archived, and sent to the Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps (GCSS-MC) portal.”
The team began by developing the T-Glass hardware interface to complete a minimum viable product (MVP).
“As we started building the T-Glass, we realized that the most important thing was to find out what the end user wants,” said Scotti. “There’s a lot of AR/VR commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, but that technology is not necessarily always focused on the needs of maintainers. The T-Glass is unique because it’s built specifically for maintenance professionals.”
NCMS supplied the team with the resources needed to purchase COTS equipment such as small cameras and Raspberry Pi units—computers that run Linux and provide a set of general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins. The Raspberry Pi devices enable the user to control electronic components for computing and explore the Internet of Things (IoT). Some of the Marines on the project team are electricians by trade, so they were able to integrate the components into a system to be mounted on a Marine’s head with a transparent visor.
Next, the team worked on the software, testing item recognition accuracy and categorizing items within the database configuration. The team of reservists included software developers who coded for tasks such as detecting a specific type of item (e.g., a rifle) and differentiating that item from other types in the same category (e.g., an M27 or a SCAR-L).
“The project team worked like a start-up company using the Silicon Valley business model,” said Scotti. “We built the prototype, did some showcases, demonstrated our capabilities, and got feedback from customers.”
The project is preparing for a second phase, which is intended to complete the software and data integration. The goal is to not only produce the T-Glass, but also a variety of other necessary components including private, secure servers set up to analyze data; informatics on military data for projections; and an informatics engine that is easily usable or adaptable for commercial use.
Although most of the tasks and deliverables of this project will be completed by the Marine Corps, NAVSEA and NAVAIR are interested in being the next organizations to adopt the T-Glass technology. Moreover, the analytics developed in this initiative could be used to identify fault clusters for all DOD equipment. For example, logs of military aircraft maintenance could be analyzed for fault patterns, which could help the DOD optimize its equipment management in the areas of maintenance, parts purchase, and best practices.
Expectations for the T-Glass suggest that it could bring major innovations in data analysis. As a platform for a scalable data pipeline, the T-Glass has the potential to transform the whole logistics infrastructure by providing a rapid way to gather and analyze existing data on maintenance activities and deliver it to maintainers so they can work more efficiently.
The T-Glass, once fully developed, would also benefit commercial industries by providing a new way to increase the operational efficiency of inspection and maintenance technicians, reduce errors, improve equipment readiness, and lower repair turnaround time. Moreover, the technology’s general data analytics engine for maintenance analysis could be used in civilian maintenance sectors to optimize a vast range of daily commercial or general public operations. One directly transferable application could allow manufacturers/machine operators to follow prompts on their T-Glass to increase their output. The T-Glass could also benefit workers who perform inspection and maintenance in dangerous locations or environments not conducive to reading instructions.
“What has been most impressive about this project is the depth of the talent and skill set inherent in the USMC reserves, especially the junior Marines as we move toward Force Design 2030,” said Col. Mike Wendler, the contracts manager for the project who also provided program oversight.
Lt. Col. Scotti agreed. “We focused on cultivating an ecosystem of STEM Marines,” he said. “The reservists have experience working in the commercial sector and we were able to inject those capabilities into the Marines.”
Currently, the team is actively seeking funding to complete this project for the benefit of the DOD as well as commercial industry.