4IR, Digital Twins, AI, Metaverse in the Aeronautics, Aerospace, Defence Industry

Dinis Guarda
6 min readAug 28, 2023

Research White Paper by Dinis Guarda, CEO Founder ztudium, openbusinesscouncil.org, citiesabc.com metaverseabc.tech

Figure 1, 4IR, Digital Twins, AI, Metaverse in the Aeronautics, Aerospace, Defence Industry, infographic research of the sector ecosystem by Dinis Guarda

As we move forward with the Fourth Industrial Revolution 4IR and as we use new data models and data, all the parts of society and business sectors will have to become fully digital transformed and adopt open AI and open APIs plus open innovation that will help close the miles between the physical world and the increasingly digital version. The aeronautic, aerospace, and defence industry is a sector that thrives on innovation and technology.

When it comes to the aeronautic industries, digital transformation is more important than ever. This sector at large has to adopt and be at the forefront of the digital 4IR revolution, without affecting its pace while bridging physical and real-time digital models that are evolving at an accelerated pace, leapfrogging multiple times.

Digital transformation in aviation and aeronautics: The case of retrofitting aircrafts

The Aviation, Aeronautics, Aerospace, Defence Industry are complex sectors characterised by many stakeholders, long lifespans of its operations and assets, and high technical and advanced requirements regarding finance, engineering, safety, security, and documentation. To meet these requirements as well as customer needs, the industry and aircrafts need to be regularly retrofitted with new cabins. During the planning and execution of these operations, product and areas such as cabin retrofit, handling the needed and available data poses a challenge to the engineers.

While much of the required data is available in some form, generally there is a lack of a digitally usable dataset of the specific aircraft — a virtual representation of the physical asset is missing. To support the implementation of such a physical and digital twin and, thus, the overall process of retrofitting aircraft, an approach to model-driven data handling tailored to the unique circumstances and requirements of aviation is introduced.

The digital transformation methodology consists of a combination of systems engineering and data science techniques, framed by an overarching procedure that iteratively creates and enhances a digitally accessible dataset of the relevant data. This supports the management and retrofit engineers by easing the access to required information. Besides the presentation of the research background and the methodology, a simplified example is shown, demonstrating the approach using abstracted but realistic information provided by partners from the industry.

Aerospace and defence companies have to thrive in adopting best enterprise technologies — remove siloed in on-premise legacy systems and data centres — and they may have to get the agility or decision-making ability required to capture this digital 360 potential new growth.

The Aerospace and defence companies have lifespans often reaching up to 30 years of nearly continuous active service, with aircraft being one of the longest-living mass-produced products. Simultaneous high safety standards and changing consumer needs, together with overall wear and tear, lead to regular intensive maintenance and also retrofit processes during which the aircraft is often dismantled copiously.

During the cabin retrofit, for a leased aircraft, for example occurring approximately every five to seven years, big parts of the aircraft’s cabin are removed and replaced by a partly or completely newly designed interior. As this new cabin has to fit into the specific aircraft’s body — its airframe — perfectly, planning the cabin as well as the retrofit process heavily relies on exact knowledge about the specific airframe.. While this scenario calls for an approach that currently can be frequently found in the literature under the term digital twin, aviation’s special circumstances complicate the adaptation of said concepts and result in the need for an even more elaborate data handling effort.

Within aviation, there are many possible applications of 4IR, AI digital twins, that will integrate the entire life cycle of a business, a fleet, an aircraft, integrating all aspects with sensorial twins monitoring the data, states of every aircraft in operation. Rather than that sensorial information, this work however focuses on geometric and structural information, creating a virtual representation of each aircraft including its state of installation. Before doing so, a more detailed introduction to the state of the art of the retrofit and documentation in aviation is given. An insight into possible approaches originating from different domains, which can assist with this task, is given. While the conducted research has many more aspects, this article focuses on the motivational background, overall approach, and especially the relevant modelling.

Aerospace and defence companies have a unique opportunity to simultaneously grow and optimise their core operations, business and plant flags in the new critical segments of Digital Twins, AI and Metaverse.

The fundamental changes that will come with these technologies are incredibly challenging. If the sector does not act, new well-funded challengers players companies — whether privately held or supported by the billions being funnelled into special purpose acquisition companies — will likely disrupt them and fill the void if companies don’t act now.

Figure 2 — Spectrum of the 4IR — AI, Web 3.0, Digital Twins, Metaverse present technologies solutions

AI data models PAAS integrated Digital twins and Metaverse enterprise technologies are opening new radical solutions and opportunities for the aeronautic and the defence and planes industry at large.

These sets of technologies and particularly Artificial intelligence are now driving the industry and its innovation in all its sectors and when it comes to aerospace and defence, will be much more powerful in shifting the very core of the sector. The radical transformation will touch from the management, factory, fleet to the combat field. 4IR, Digital Twins, AI, Metaverse technologies are increasing all operations, security and safety in leadership, strategy, autonomous flights, threat detection, radio communications, and more.

In the aerospace and defence industry, supporting software has to make quick decisions in high-risk scenarios. 4IR, and Artificial intelligence in particular are becoming integral to the $8.7T industry space as companies and government agencies are using technologies from robotics and autonomous systems to cybersecurity and telecommunication for company and national security.

Moreover digital twin technologies are changing the entire way the physical and digital combine in the industry and sector at large. In Aerospace and Defense the digital representation of an intended or actual real-world physical product, fleet, plane, system, or process will in much more impact serve as the effectively indistinguishable digital important counterpart of it for practical purposes, such as simulation, integration, testing, monitoring, and maintenance.

Digital twin technologies are now used to train AI to fly autonomous aircraft and combine and optimise overall business operations. Industry professionals such as AI pilots can get thousands of hours of flight time on a digital simulation in a fraction of that time and learn in days than what it takes, a human pilot, months to experience.

All major aeronautics and defence companies and contractors such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman have announced digital transformation AI-based research initiatives and product launches. Companies such as Lockheed Martin, Airbus, and Boeing have made investments in AI startups through their venture arms.

This 4IR and AI, digital twins and metaverse shifts are unsurprising as the aerospace companies and government defence agencies that work with these private contractors are beginning to adopt at large and stress the need for full digital transformation and AI to enhance full operations, safety and security.

In 2017, the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced Project Maven, a large-scale initiative to develop computer vision algorithms for military purposes. The following year, the DoD launched the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to focus on AI R&D.

Below, we highlight 6 ways AI is impacting aerospace and defence, from aircraft design to securing radio communication.

4IR AI in the aerospace and defence industry

Artificial intelligence is now a standard technology in the aerospace and defence industry and is used across functions: business strategy, leadership management, Aircraft design and development. Business and operations strategy, financial and engineering models such ad Aircraft testing & optimisation. And full integration in Pre- and post-flight inspection, operations & safety compliance.

Below mentioned are some of the major 4IR AI, digital Twins and metaverse at large applications that are making the aerospace industry disruptive using AI technology.

  1. Business life cycle
  2. Product Designing, 3D and life cycle management
  3. Data management and real time operations optimisation
  4. Effective business and Supply Chain Management
  5. Better Fuel Efficiency
  6. Training & Practices
  7. Better user and Customer Experience
  8. Air Traffic Management
  9. Identification and management of Threats
  10. Pilots and Passenger Identification