Bell Says Latest Helicopter was Designed 10 Times Faster With VR

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Bell Helicopter challenged its Innovation Team to accelerate its aircraft design process. Turning to VR as a key improvement to their design pipeline, the team created the FCX-001, the company’s first “concept aircraft,” in just six months.

Typically it takes five to seven years to design a helicopter, according to a case study published by Bell and HTC. Within that period there’s typically multiple iterations being explored between draft drawings, pilot testing, and focus groups. Thanks to VR, the FCX-001 ended up taking less than six-months to create, Bell says.

The drastically expedited timeline was accomplished by employing VR in lieu of physical models and mockups. Working alongside Sector 5 Digital, which specializes in 3D design and production, the initial design and model was generated in CAD software, and then transferred into Unity so that it could be tested and modified in real-time with VR.

Using an HTC Vive, engineers were able to work from the start with a full scale virtual model to pass off to the test pilots. That allowed test pilots and engineers to experience the full scale model from the start rather than creating multiple physical mockups along the way. Feedback could therefore be gathered more quickly and easily, allowing for tuning of key characteristics like visibility and positioning of controls prior to creating a physical prototype. Bell says that the aid of virtual reality may have saved the company millions, if not tens of millions, compared to its traditional design process.

The FXC-001’s rotor-less tail uses an internal thrust system to generate the necessary force to counteract torque from the main rotor. Bell says it’s a safer approach that also requires less maintenance. | Image courtesy Bell Helicopter

Not only has VR been handy in the overall design of the FCX-001, it’s been helpful as a sales tool, allowing the company to showcase a wide range of customizations specific to a client’s needs.

Given its success with VR in this branch of their business, Bell says it’s looking into incorporating VR into other aspects of its business such as training and maintenance.

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  • A VR Enthusiast

    Great news!

    And we need more news / success stories like this for the health of VR industry as a whole.

  • Darshan

    This is what needed the case that justify the existence of VR outside entertainment or gaming.. To secure the future of VR we need VR to be as conman as PC we see at Airline Desk, Banks, Supermarkets, Post offices , Schools, Hospitals… The VR revolution only follow after its omni acceptance as daily tool

    • John Horn

      Honestly, I’m a little bit surprised a huge company such as Bell is using a “cheap” consumer VR headset though. I work in the helicopter industry, as a subcontractor.

      • Doug Fidler

        Bell are using Vive Pro. When the FCX was developed it had not been released.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Uhm, incase you didn’t know, VR has been in use in the industrie for decades.. This is just a HTC promotion video.

      • Darshan

        Yet it still is miles away from being omni present

  • Les Vega

    One of the hidden benefits i notice is just how focused you can remain on your projects, i typically make about 3 days worth of progress in just one session using vr.

    • Foreign Devil

      Progress doing what? 3D sculpting? Which software do you use?

      • Les Vega

        I use a mix of Oculus Medium and Blender and other programs for sculpting and Animation.

        • Foreign Devil

          You use a VR plugin for Blender? How good is it? Medium couldn’t get me much detail. . I’ll have to double my RAM. . and the occulus touch is kind of rough for sculpting. . well it is good for a sketch sculpt mostly. I wish Maya would get some VR integration. I’ll have to learn blender.

    • First, sorry fo my English. I’m not an native. Interesting, could you tell me more about what do you do in VR exacly?

      I would love to have a HMD with pass-throught function and deph sensing that passes to the virtual enviroment only my desk and stuff that lies on it, so I could be in always clean, known, and distraction free enviroment, when I’m learning/working. The closest thing to that will be Oculus Quest, if only resolution will be good enougth.

  • John Horn

    As a VR enthusiast who *happens* to work in the helicopter industry, this is pretty badasssss. :D I had to share this video with some of my colleague helicopter mechanics.

    I have the Vive regular, currently waiting for my kickstarted Pimax 5K+

  • That’s why VR is focusing on enterprise, because it makes companies spare millions

  • Martijn Valk

    Pretty awesome (also an awesome helicopter ;)), though it’s pretty funny to see them talking about millions, however they still use a regular Vive and not a Pro :)

  • Vittorio

    For companies who design their products with Rhino, there’s the plugin Mindesk VR that allows to edit objects in VR itself, no export required, all the things you do in VR are real time modifications of the Rhino file. Probably it will come to other CADs in the short term future.

    • Jetson

      $1199/year or $199/month cuckoo wackoos!
      Use Modo no VR plugins but VR integrated from version 12.1v2
      perpetual license $1799 after that $399/year One can stop maintenance $399/year and then just use the perpetual license.

    • Raphael

      Blender has a free VR plugin.

  • Clayton Morin

    NEW AIR WOLF, NEW AIR WOLF, NEW AIR WOLF!

  • PJ

    Valve should make all there games in VR then..

  • Cameron Ayres

    This is great to see the story covered by Road to VR! I worked on this project and had an absolute blast working directly with test pilots to speed up the design process. We gave a talk at the VR AR Global Summit this year that did a deep dive into the process. While some 3D software has built in VR capabilities, the flexibility a game engine gives for the process is unrivaled and the Vive Pro truly was the best choice for us.