Virtually Exciting

Gulfstream is employing virtual reality technology to enhance the customer experience

Personalization is a priority for Gulfstream customers, particularly in the cabin. Their desire to transform the area into a unique living space is what makes cabin outfitting visits such popular stops along the aircraft delivery journey.

Soon-to-be-owners relish the sessions with Gulfstream completion and design teams. They configure their seating layout, choose cabin materials such as wood veneer, upholstery and carpeting, and select a color palette.

The lone drawback was customers then had to wait until delivery to experience what they had created.

Not anymore.

Gulfstream is leveraging virtual reality technology to enhance the ownership journey. The 3-D Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, an immersive reality research and development lab, allows customers to interact with personalized cabin designs in the virtual realm.

“We’ve only been doing this a couple of years, and already customers have the expectation of experiencing the aircraft here first,” says Gulfstream CAVE specialist Fernando Toledo.

The interest in virtual experiences prompted Gulfstream to debut two G500 virtual reality simulations at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition earlier this year. By donning a VR headset, such as an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, prospects and customers virtually experienced the flight deck or the cabin.

The response was so overwhelmingly positive the G500 Symmetry Flight Deck Experience and the G500 Cabin Experience will be mainstays of Gulfstream displays at major airshows and could soon be incorporated into Gulfstream’s Sales and Design centers.

The virtual worlds are changing the way Gulfstream showcases its aircraft.

Cool Technologies, Cool Experiences

The Gulfsteam CAVE is not located underground, but it is subtly hidden among the company’s testing facilities at the Savannah, Georgia, world headquarters.

The CAVE is essentially a box-shaped room where three walls and the floor are high-definition video screens. Put on a pair of special 3-D glasses and stand or sit in the center of the space, and the room becomes a Gulfstream cabin. A hand-held controller allows the user to move about the interior, open and close drawers, extend and stow tables, even manipulate environmental controls.

Users can also change seating configurations, materials styling and colors at the touch of a button.

“Those who have worked on their cabin aesthetic in the Sales and Design Center can come over here and check their creation and experiment with some changes,” Toledo says. “They can make a more informed decision.”

Gulfstream has been using the CAVE in product development since installing the technology in early 2012. Virtual reality has numerous engineering applications, particularly for a product in the design phase. At Gulfstream, the teams developing the cabin for the G500 and G600 used—and still rely upon—the CAVE extensively to explore configurations and styling possibilities.

The CAVE’s customer experience debut came October 14, 2014, the day Gulfstream unveiled the G500 and G600 with a dramatic launch event. More than 200 customers, prospective customers and dignitaries participated in a CAVE demonstration staged in the hours following the ceremony, and all were extremely impressed.

“From a customer standpoint—showing off the CAVE as part of a larger tour of the test facilities—our leadership instantly recognized the CAVE as a showcase,” Toledo says.

The CAVE is a highlight of the Discover Gulfstream experience customers and prospective buyers enjoy when visiting company headquarters. Other tour features include stops in the CASE, a full-scale flight deck simulator, and the Iron Bird, a full-scale metal aircraft skeleton fitted with flight controls, hydraulics, electrical systems and landing gear to simulate all the actions of an aircraft in flight.

“The CAVE personifies the innovative and cutting-edge spirit of Gulfstream,” says Larry Patterson, Gulfstream’s director of Advanced Computing Technologies, including Immersive Realities. “VR and 3-D are immersive technologies that allow ‘real’ experiences before a product exists throughout all stages of its life cycle.”

A True Sales Tool

Word about the CAVE spread quickly among Gulfstream’s clientele, and the facility now plays a more practical role in the sales process.

One prospective customer who recently visited Gulfstream was enthralled by the cabin design process but was struggling to visualize what it would feel like to be in the actual space. By visiting the CAVE and experimenting with several configuration options, he found the layout he wanted—and it wasn’t the one he initially favored during the design meeting.

“By sitting in the CAVE and seeing the cabin around you, you understand much more easily and quickly what design choices work visually,” says Scott Neal, senior vice president, Worldwide Sales, Gulfstream. “That allows for greater personalization and a higher level of customer satisfaction.”

The CAVE and VR Cabin Experience also provide the user a better sense of special and custom features that aren’t present in Gulfstream’s physical cabin mock-ups or demonstration aircraft, such as a shower in the lavatory. Patterson, Toledo and their teams can add custom items to the software.

Expect VR to play a greater role in Gulfstream’s sales and marketing efforts going forward. The VR Cabin Experience and VR Flight Deck Experience will be part of Gulfstream’s display at the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition this fall, perhaps as part of a larger interactive production.

As planned, visitors will first tour a demo aircraft or a cabin and flight deck mock-up, then don a pair of VR goggles programmed to show the interior they’ve just experienced. They can then virtually customize the cabin to their liking.

“Virtual reality is a great way to connect the customer to the product,” Toledo says.

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