Business & GA, Embedded Avionics

NBAA 2013: Touchscreen Cockpit Systems and Next Generation Business Aircraft

By Woodrow Bellamy III | October 24, 2013
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Future business aircraft cockpits are likely to feature touchscreen enabled primary flight displays and eventually fully integrated touchscreen flight decks, according to avionics manufacturers exhibiting at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) 2013 convention.
[Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics cockpit with touchscreen controls on King Air 350 turboprop.]
Among the touch screen announcements was Rockwell Collins’ upgraded Pro Line Fusion flight deck with touch screen primary flight displays. This will be ready for certification on the Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprop by next year.  With the touchscreen functionality, pilots will be able to quickly cycle through every navigational function they require during any phase of flight, from quickly reconfiguring flight paths to displaying climate conditions.   
“It’s a heads-up eyes forward flying flight deck operating philosophy,” said Joe Razo, principal marketing manager of Pro Line Fusion business and regional systems at Rockwell Collins. “So while you maintain your scan, you can reach up and touch and you can make changes to the avionics system without breaking your concentration and your focus and looking down.”
Deployment of the first touch screen enabled primary flight displays represents an industry shift toward next generation cockpit concepts, such as Thales Avionics 2020 platform, which features an open architecture that will allow OEMs to add third-party applications.
According to Guillaume Lapeyronnie, cockpit marketing manager at Thales, the company is currently working with several aircraft manufacturers to get their feedback about the concept with the goal of entering into service around 2018.
[Thales’ Avionics 2020 cockpit concept.]
To combat pilot error such as inadvertent touchscreen swipes, Razo said Rockwell Collins’s primary flight displays feature resistive touchscreen technology, which require more pressure than would a typical touchscreen smartphone or tablet interface to control.
Barco, a second tier supplier to companies such as Honeywell, Thales, GE Aviation, Rockwell Collins and others, also has its future prototype cockpit on display at NBAA, featuring one composite flush glass display with two stand-alone control units and a multi-touchscreen. The company is also working on methods of reducing pilot error with inadvertent touchscreen swipes by developing a software gesture library.
“In our software library, which comes with the display, we supply a gesture library, so the software says ‘this is an invalid input,'” said Kristof Vierin, vice president of aerospace and defense sales at Barco. “So you really have to capture the valid inputs in order to make sure you filter out the intended gestures of the pilot.”
Government agencies have also expressed interest in helping avionics manufacturers develop certifiable touchscreen cockpit technologies to help reduce pilot workload as well.
The European Commission-backed ALICIA consortium, which Thales, Rockwell Collins and Barco are a part of, is studying methods by which touchscreen cockpit technologies can reduce maintenance and training costs for airlines with a focus on software upgrades and the development of a scalable touch screen interface applicable to multiple aircraft types.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
In the U.S., the FAA has contracted Honeywell to study human factors activity associated with pilots and touchscreen cockpit technologies at its facility in Phoenix. Honeywell is also on the verge of launching a new product line of touchscreen avionics solutions for air transport and business aircraft.
The aerospace manufacturer did not mention specifics, other than Embraer’s selection of its digital resistive touchscreen controller for its second generation of E-Jets, E2s, scheduled to enter service in 2018. However, they’re developing the technology with a focus on human factors in the cockpit.
“There are many factors that go into our human factors activities. We have a six degree motion simulator where we’re doing all the FAA testing and human factors testing for the touchscreen so there’s a lot of work that happens in that area, especially from the standpoint of what’s occurring with the pilot,” said Jeff Merdich, director of product marketing at Honeywell. 
So, how far away is the business aviation and air transport community away from seeing widespread deployment of fully-touchscreen enabled human interface systems? Probably not as far away as you’d think.
“The technology is ready, it’s just a matter of having it accepted by the pilot community and getting the symbology to be touchscreen compatible. Give it a couple of years,” said Vierin.                

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