Expert advice from afar

 - July 1, 2014, 5:10 AM
Via a cellular, Wi-Fi or satcom Internet connection, the Librestream Onsight ‘virtual presence’ system can bring experts on scene wherever in the world an aircraft operator might be flummoxed by a thorny mechanical issue.

One option for an aircraft technician faced with a thorny mechanical at home base or stranded far from the home hangar would be to take photos with a smartphone and send them to a source of help such as the manufacturer’s tech support team.

A Canadian company called Librestream, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, offers Onsight “mobile collaboration,” which it promotes as a better way of connecting technicians with the most knowledgeable people out there to help them resolve a problem that has them stumped. Librestream is targeting many fields of industry, from oil-and-gas production and automotive shop floors to industrial equipment manufacturing and engineering labs, as well as the operators and manufacturers of business aircraft, as enterprises likely to benefit from the Onsight system’s “virtual presence” technology.

Virtual presence “gets [an organization’s] experts into the field without packing a bag, boarding an airplane or even leaving the office,” according to Marieke Wijtkamp, v-p of business development at Librestream. Aviation users currently account for about 15 percent of Librestream’s business. Commercial aircraft builders and airlines, as well as the military, were the first in the segment to sign up, but Librestream is now targeting the manufacturers and users of business jets. “The places business jets travel to are not always the nicest of places, where they don’t have good access to experts,” noted Wijtkamp, “and the operator might be in the middle of a field with access to only 50K of bandwidth.” Verizon and Inmarsat are among Librestream’s Onsight partners.

One of the questions Librestream is accustomed to fielding is how its system differs from, and outperforms, Facetime or Skype. Wijtkamp emphasizes “three main areas where an enterprise-grade video collaboration system is quite different.”

“What we focus on is experience. You really need a whole bunch of capabilities beyond just sharing and talking to solve a problem as if you were there. You need to be able to telestrate on the screen. You might want to see a picture from the expert so you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. You might want to plug in a borescope to see inside the engine and stream that across.”

While smartphones and tablets can be used as the video and communication medium, the full Onsight 2500 system consists of an HD camera with zoom, macro and built-in lighting to illuminate a buried problem area. Even on a low-bandwidth connection of just 50K, the Onsight system can provide definition sufficient to show individual carpet fibers clearly. Approved for use in Class 1, Division 2 and Zone 2 hazardous locations, the camera operates wirelessly with the Onsight system, which provides two-way video, audio, images and visual notation to pinpoint the item under discussion. A borescope cannot be used with consumer chat-type apps such as Facetime or Skype, Librestream notes. Guest invitations can bring others in on a session, and the system provides “enterprise-grade security,” according to Wijtkamp.

Bird-strike Dilemma: AOG or Flyable?

As examples of how Librestream can benefit a business aircraft operator, Wijtkamp cited the case of an aircraft that had suffered a bird strike while landing. To answer the question of whether the event was an AOG or not, the operator brought in the OEM for a two-hour Onsight session that concluded the aircraft was flyable.

In another use of Librestream’s system, the issue was brake noise on an airplane. The Onsight session began with the company’s own technicians back at home base but they were unable to identify the cause of the noise. Eventually the OEM was brought in and six people participated in the session, which allowed the manufacturer’s experts to see and hear the source of the sound and show the technicians how to fix it. According to Wijtkamp, Onsight sessions typically last an hour but can run from as short as 15 minutes to as much as three hours, with follow-up sessions to share what was fixed and how. Even a three-hour session is much quicker and more efficient than the process of dispatching experts to be onsite physically, Wijtkamp emphasizes. Onsight sessions can be stored so an operator can assemble a knowledge base for future reference.

Onsight can also provide the purchaser with a visual tour of his aircraft and its interior under construction, and Wijtkamp says that this “nice-to-have rather than must-have feature” has already been used by business-jet OEMs.

Users typically require no more than an hour’s training to operate the system, and the materials are accessible online.

Asked what a business aircraft operator could expect to pay to acquire the whole system, complete with HD camera, Wijtkamp said, “It is difficult to provide a price for the Onsight system, as it all depends on what the customer needs. In some cases our customers purchase the full solution, including the rugged Onsight camera device, Onsight Connect collaboration software for PCs/smartphones/tablets, and the central management tools. In other cases, customers may require only the Onsight collaboration software and management system.The cost can be as low as $15,000 for a complete system. There are no hourly costs for using the system, only subscription costs like those you would see with other software used as a service solution.”