More than two decades after it began, Microsoft is still trying to make things easier.

Sam Denton-Giles, Microsoft’s advanced analytics lead, explained how the company—along with partner Ramco, which makes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and other aviation software—using bots and Microsoft’s HoloLens, can do just that for aircraft mechanics, engineers and other maintenance staff.

First, the Microsoft executive noted, even with laptops and other mobile devices, aircraft-maintenance communication can still be a problem: Technicians can still waste too much time walking, typing, navigating systems and generally working with clunky keyboard- or menu-driven systems.

Voice recognition; virtual and augmented reality; natural language; gestures; machine learning; and other advances in the digital revolution should begin to do for MRO workers what robots did for manufacturing workers: dramatically increase productivity.

Chatbots will act as personal assistants for all kind of workers, including techs and engineers. Chatbots can converse, respond, remind and learn user preferences, and answer important questions—all without logins, complex menus, clunky screens and boring processes. “Would you rather click six times or ‘ping’ a bot?” asked Shanthi Krishna, Ramco’s director of product design. These personal assistants will use ordinary language, and will be available anytime and anywhere to help part buyers, planners, mechanics and other field workers who need simple interactions with information sources.

Ramco has already developed its Chia all-purpose bot for aviation. Chia is not voice-driven yet, but is very easy to use. For example, a part buyer just enters his or her email address and password, then begins a perfectly natural conversation about securing a replacement part from different potential sources. The buyer can approve, reject, ask for a better price or delay a decision, all in natural language. Special-purpose Ramco bots (for example, an aircraft-on-ground [AOG] bot), would help a mechanic easily get necessary information from maintenance documents and vendors.

Presenting a use case for HoloLens, Ramco has demonstrated an application for training and supporting aviation techs. It enables trainees to enter a virtual classroom and interact with a holograph of a complex and expensive part (for example, an aircraft engine), manipulating it and learning, all without the expense or time required to work on the physical equipment. A technician in the field can collaborate with a remote expert, each sharing the same information, images and augmented reality, to engage in troubleshooting complex maintenance challenges.