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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Touch the Future

Digital taxi, touchscreen, augmented reality, voice recognition and wrap-around cockpits are just a few of the new cockpit avionics technologies in which companies are investing their research and development dollars.

Much of the development is in the areas of communication, navigation and surveillance to meet the projected increases in air traffic and regulatory requirements related to NextGen and SESAR airspace modernization initiatives.

Another factor driving development is the “massive shift in what drives expectations,” said Kris Ganase, president of L-3 Aviation Products. “We are increasingly being driven by expectations generated in the consumer electronics market than we are by internally developed concepts and ideas.”

As a result, “our market now expects rapid availability and continuous innovation, along with easily applied applications similar to what they have embraced in the consumer world.”

Regulatory challenges will likely grow as the avionics business continues to evolve and demands for better, faster avionics increase. Another challenge for the avionics makers is how to transfer more data faster to and from the cockpit.

“There is a lot of data to transfer into the aircraft. So anything to help speed up that transfer of data helps,” said Dan Reida, vice president sales, marketing and support for Universal Avionics, of Tucson, Ariz. He said the standard database in the cockpit has increased “ten-fold in the last five years.”

Competitors agree. “The data pipes on the ground and in the air are getting bigger all the time,” said Bob Witwer, vice president of Advanced Technology at Honeywell. With Inmarsat’s GX Aviation, the newer satellites will be able to handle around 50 megabytes per second, substantially more data than in the past. In 2012, Honeywell and Inmarsat signed an exclusive $2.8 billion agreement to provide global in-flight connectivity services to business, commercial and government aviation customers worldwide.

“We’re looking towards a fully connected aircraft, behaving like nodes in a network, connected with other aircraft,” said Witwer.

New Directions

Rockwell Collins is developing new products on a 3-to-5-year and a 5-to-10-year timeline. For the near term, the company will build upon its ProLine Fusion flight deck and head-up display (HUD). The company fielded its ProLine Fusion with HUD synthetic vision system (SVS) over a year ago and it’s now on more than 60 Bombardier Global 5000s long-range jets as well as the Gulfstream G280 mid-size jet.

“We are now going to enhance that system so the crews get a lower minimum landing credit,” said Matt Carrico, senior engineering manager of advanced concepts.

Rockwell Collins is seeking a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from FAA for Special Cat I rating that would allow the HUD-SVS equipped aircraft to fly down to a decision height of 150 feet. The manufacturer is adding a monitoring element to confirm the SVS seen is correct and can be used as a guidance cue to the runway. Rockwell Collins said it expects STC within the next three years.

In other short-term developments, Rockwell Collins is enhancing the airport moving map display, which is contained in its display system, to highlight the takeoff and landing runways as programmed into the flight management system (FMS). The enhancement “should reduce major blunders of taking off or landing on the wrong runway,” Carrico said.

Within three years, the company will extend the capability of the basic airport and runway diagram technology to a high resolution airport map data base that accurately displays all the airport features, including runways, taxiways, gates and FBOs.

Like other avionics manufacturers, Rockwell Collins plans to improve the user interfaces in the cockpits by adding touchscreens. For now, touchscreens are likely to be used for non-critical functions. In time, they could be used to activate critical functions, such as engines and fuel flow, but the system would include a safety device, or function to prevent inadvertent activation of critical systems. Backup switches and knobs also would continue to be used to activate various critical functions.

Over the long-term, Rockwell Collins will develop a touchscreen-based flight deck of the future based upon its ProLine Fusion application, with side stick controls made by the company.

Pictured above is an approach into the
Charlottesville, Va., airport during a
Honeywell test flight. EVS video is
shown in a windowed mode for approach.
EVS image is show with the portion above
the zero-pitch reference line semi-
transparent so the mountains are seen
by the pilots.
“From there, we’re going clean sheet on what we can do,” said Geoff Shapiro, senior systems engineer, Advanced Technology Center for Rockwell Collins.

The goal is to put more functionality into flight controls and find ways to reduce the time it takes for pilots to enter their intentions into the system through use of touchscreens.

The company considered a one-piece glass cockpit display, but determined a wraparound system posed serviceability and cost challenges, said Shapiro. The company is in the final stages of assembling a prototype flight deck simulator to be housed near Washington D.C.

As part of the evaluation of the future flight deck, Rockwell Collins will test pilots by having them wear headsets to determine where they’re looking. These tests will be coupled with physiological recordings of heartbeat, respiration and galvanic skin response, a change in the electrical resistance of the skin occurring in moments of stress.

Testing voice recognition technologies for the flight deck is also planned. The ultimate goal is to have a natural voice interface, said Shapiro, where the pilot can speak to the system as if talking to another pilot or air traffic control. The technology needs to work flawlessly before it is ready for prime time, the company said. “It has to work better than Siri,” joked Shapiro, referring to the artificial voice of newer Apple iPhones.

To combat the problem of voice recognition for pilots whose first language is not English, the international language of aviation, Rockwell Collins is experimenting with a translator that will adapt the pronunciation to increase accuracy. A dynamic grammar model to filter out numerous unneeded responses to increase accuracy of the voice recognition unit also is being tested.

Rockwell Collins also is looking at conflict probe technology. Say a pilot is flying toward a storm and needs data on how to proceed. Should the pilot fly through the least turbulent part of the storm? Or try and fly around the cell altogether? A conflict probe takes all available weather information about the cell and offers a meteorological model to advise the pilot on what path to take.

For its part, Thales is continuing with the development of its future cockpit design, dubbed One Display for a Cockpit Interactive Solution (ODICIS), which was announced at the 2012 Farnborough Air Show. (An ODICIS demonstrator on display at this month’s Paris Air Show will have all the current technology that can be deployed in the cockpit environment.)

Denis Bonnet, head of Cockpit Innovation and Human Machine Interface at Thales, said ODICIS would answer “how can we redefine the cockpit around better user interfaces? And how can we benefit from touchscreen technology to access user interfaces?” ODICIS will provide all the functions of today’s modern cockpit, including Digital Taxi; Airborne Separation Assistance Systems, which provides safe spacing between aircraft by adjusting its speed relative to another aircraft; and Initial 4-D trajectory, a traffic sequencing technology.

The touchscreen-based demonstrator will have one flat screen that goes across the cockpit and down the pedestal between the pilot and co-pilot. The new technology draws on applied research undertaken for the Cockpit 3.0 initiative and creates a “crew-centric system with simpler and more instinctive human-system interfaces,” according to Thales. ODICIS will be marketable by 2020 as a flat LCD panel. By 2030, ODICIS will be an entirely new and far more advanced cockpit. The screen will be a non-flat, non-rectangle surface and have several more functions that can be activated by touch. As a safety precaution, Thales will for now use tactile technologies to activate critical functions to safeguard against unintended activation.

Thales said it considers itself a leader in touchscreen development. The company learned a lot about the technology during the development of the Dassault Rafael, a Delta wing fighter aircraft, which first flew in 1986. With the Rafael came advances in avionics design and software technology.

Thales continues to research digital taxi capability for the cockpit. “We want to bring into the cockpit the same vision the air traffic controller has,” said Lionel Verot, who handles the development of all SESAR-related technologies for Thales.

The moving map and aircraft position application is certified on the A380 and plans are to certify the technology on other Airbus aircraft. But the application does not yet specify what taxi route the aircraft should take after landing. Additional work is needed on standardizing the messages through Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) before the concept of digital taxi becomes truly effective. Digital taxi system needs to be linked with ADS-B to be fully operational. In 2012, Thales tested its prototype digital taxi system at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is known to be challenging for pilots taxiing aircraft.

Thales is ready to “show the D-Taxi concept” to potential customers, although much work is still needed, said Verot. The technical and operational feasibility of the concept can be demonstrated through modifications of Thales’ airborne and ground solutions developed under the SESAR and NextGen framework.

Thales' touchscreen-based demonstrator will have
one flat screen that goes across the cockpit and
down the pedestal between the pilot and co-pilot.
the new technology draws on applied research
undertaken for the Cockpit 3.0 initiative and
creates a "crew-centric system with simpler
and more instinctive human-system interfaces,"
the company said.
In 2012, an Airbus A320 flight to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and back to Toulouse, validated the I-4D trajectory concept of flight sequencing in which aircraft automatically sent waypoints to the air traffic controller. During the test flight, the aircraft’s FMS, the air traffic management (ATM) system and the arrival flights sequencing system were able to communicate via data link and then agree on a specific CTO point in the optimized descent phase. The flight showed accuracy of plus or minus 10 seconds of sequencing specific waypoints.

The 4-D trajectory, which will eventually be certified as part of the FMS, can become operational without having all airports and airlines sign on. The technology could be implemented piecemeal between individual airports and airlines, said Honeywell’s Witwer. (Honeywell was involved in the 2012 I-4D demonstration as well.) Priority routing can be granted to those operators of 4-D-equipped aircraft through 4-D contracts, he said.

Improving Vision

On its own, Honeywell is blending its 3-D-capable SVS with an image from an infrared camera (IC) to provide the pilot better situational awareness close to the ground. This combined vision system can help pilots view ground items with a heat signature, such as approach and runway lights. Tests on the combined SVN-IC continue, but Honeywell has yet to target when to bring this enhanced product to market.

Another Honeywell product still in the technology phase is the Precision Multi-Constellation Navigation (PMCN) system, which allows the aircraft to access other navigation systems. Although GPS coverage is worldwide, it isn’t the only navigation satellite positioning system available. Europeans have Galileo; Russians, GLONASS; and Chinese, Beidou/Compass. Within the next 10 years, additional regions and countries will put up their own navigation satellite constellations creating a multi-constellation satellite system network. The new navigation network will be known as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Honeywell is currently developing receiver prototypes at its Brno and Shanghai labs to develop a GNSS receiver that is expected to come to market sometime later this decade.

Several reasons exist for having a PMCN system. Sometimes GPS is unavailable because of, say, an atmospheric disturbance. And pilots might find themselves flying in a region where they must use a certain they want to sell navigation systems into the Russian constellation for navigation. Having access to more than one constellation also gives pilots the ability to generate a more accurate position.

Universal Avionics continues to develop new products for fixed and rotary wing aircraft. The company is partnering with MD Helicopters to build and design a next generation flight deck for the twin-engine MD Explorer helicopter.

The Explorer will feature a single-pilot IFR-capable flight deck with display graphics that are video and mission display capable. The Primary Flight Display (PFD) provides all primary flight parameters, engine/rotor data and safety critical annunciators. A Multi-Function Display/Engine Indicating and Crew-Alerting System (MFD/EICAS) replaces the current IIDS and radar displays with synoptic displays. Synthetic vision, enhanced moving maps, system displays, electronic charts, checklists and innovative user faces are part of the package. A point and click display using a cyclic-mounted cursor slew switch enables the pilot to operate the system without looking away from the display screen.

Reida said the company is focusing on developing smaller, robust cockpit avionics. Universal’s new FlexPerf Trip Performance technology, which becomes available in the second quarter 2013, will provide advanced fuel savings predictions for aircraft performance in climb, cruise and descent phases of flight.

A module for Universal’s WAAS/SBAS-FMS and Multi-Mission Management System (MMMS), FlexPerf will be available with the next major software release, according to the company.

Elsewhere, avionics makers are enhancing existing equipment. ACSS continues to support customer requests to upgrade its TCAS II products to Change 7.1 software. EASA will mandate upgrading the software for all commercial air transport aircraft that operate in the European airspace in 2015.

ACSS’s SafeRoute, a suite of software applications using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology to increase safety and efficiency, continues to make inroads with commercial airlines. This year, US Airways received FAA certification on its wide body Airbus A330 to use SafeRoute. The technology includes Interval Management, In-Trail Procedures, Cockpit display of traffic information to Assist in Visual Separation and Surface Area Movement Management.

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