[Avionics Magazine 05-31-2016] During the recent Honeywell Aerospace International Media day event, the Arizona-based company gave a behind the scenes look at some of the aircraft technologies it is currently researching and developing. Check out our list of five exciting avionics concepts Honeywell is currently working on to inject innovation across the avionics market.
One of the company's advanced technology labs is dedicated to neuroscience research, with a neural control application that uses algorithms to match what a human is thinking to the controls in an aircraft. Simply put, the lab features a computer monitor hooked up to a neural sensing headset cap, which ultimately aims to allow the pilot to control the aircraft using only her thoughts. The headset allows the pilot to connect patterns of lights flashing across a control panel with their desired control of the aircraft.
A demonstration of the use of human brain waves to provide inputs for flight controls inside of Honeywell's Advanced Technology lab for neural sensing technology. Photo: Honeywell Aerospace.
For example, when the pilot desires to turn the aircraft to the right, he would concentrate on the lighted pattern to the right side of the computer screen. The neural headset then uses Electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to measure changes in the billions of neuron transmissions that occur in the brain to transfer the pilot's desired command to the flight controls, according to Santosh Mathan, principal scientist at Honeywell Labs.
While it may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, scientists and engineers at Honeywell have actually been researching neural technology and its possible applications in cockpit avionics for more than a decade. In fact, during the summer of 2015 a modified autopilot on a King Air was flight tested with the technology, and a pilot was able to use neural control to maneuver the aircraft. Mathan and Honeywell Vice President of Advanced Technology Bob Witwer say that the team's research is not anywhere close to enabling pilot brain waves to fly an aircraft, but rather, the research is better helping to inform them as to how pilots interact with aircraft systems so that future cockpit technologies, especially navigation tools, can be more intuitive and easier to use.
Honeywell is researching speech recognition and control technology for cockpit advancement with the goal of eliminating the manual steps required to execute infrequently used commands. The company's advanced technology speech recognition lab has the appearance of a recording booth similar to what a professional musician might use and is able to simulate aircraft noise at 40,000 feet. During the tour, the lab was simulating the sound of an airborne Dassault Falcon 900.
Simulating aircraft sound aids the lab's researchers in testing speech recognition technology, as it would be used in flight. One specific speech recognition technology the company is researching is an Air Traffic Control (ATC) transcription technology that transcribes ATC communications received by the pilot into text that appears conveniently on a tablet, such as an iPad.
Speech recognition is also a technology Honeywell has flight tested, using its Honeywell Innovative Prototyping Environment (HIPE) on an Embraer ERJ170. The flight testing has evaluated pilot commands as well, such as pulling up Flight Management System (FMS) menu pages, or airport approach procedures, all without executing complicated manual inputs.
SmartView Taxi Guidance
Inside Honeywell's flight simulator lab, engineers are researching and developing improvements to the synthetic vision software that is featured on its SmartView line of products. An enhancement to SmartView is being developed to aid pilots while taxiing from one area of an airport to another. The Taxi View technology provides the same three-dimensional representation of the taxiway that pilots are able to acquire of the outside environment during flight. While taxiing, graphical information presented to the pilot on the display is increased at staggered intervals, and includes ground speed, altimeter setting and the navigation source.
According to a presentation given by Witwer during the tour, the Taxi View technology is in the process of being "productized" and introduced for future aircraft cockpits as well as an upgrade for aircraft already flying with SmartView.
Honeywell is also looking into the use of aircraft cockpit displays to provide visual information about the impact of a sonic boom, which is produced by an aircraft flying faster than the speed of sound. Currently in the research phase, lead by Honeywell International's senior scientist Jerry Ball, the company is developing software to detect where a sonic boom would occur, how it would impact people on the ground and how the pilot can change a flight profile to reduce the impact of the boom.
Recently, Honeywell flight tested the new technology in collaboration with NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. The company's advanced technology team believes the technology would help ensure future supersonic aircraft can remain below acceptable noise levels. NASA has produced algorithms for the technology for testing on integrated avionics systems. Honeywell is one of several companies working under NASA's two-year Commercial Supersonic Technology Project (CST) to develop technologies that can help overcome environmental issues associated with future commercial supersonic flight.
Global interest in the re-introduction of commercial supersonic jet travel increased in 2015 when Flexjet became the launch customer for Aerion's AS2 supersonic jet. Aerion is developing the three-engine AS2 in collaboration with Airbus Group, with its first flight scheduled for 2021.
Runway Overrun Alerting and Awareness System
Another technology currently in the research and development phase is a Runway Overrun Alerting and Awareness System (ROAAS). The ROAAS, led by Steve Johnson, staff scientist for the research and development for flight safety systems, is envisioned as an extension of Honeywell's existing Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) Smart Runway/Smart Landing technology. It is designed to provide pilots with easy to understand visual and audio alerts that feature real-time comparisons of remaining runway length and predicted stopping distance to enhance safety on and near the runway.
Despite the existence of current technologies such as the EGPWS, runway excursions — when an aircraft veers off or overruns an airport runway surface — are still one of the more frequent accidents that occur in aviation. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) indicates that about one third of all business aviation accidents that occur during the landing phase are runway excursions. NBAA listed runway excursions as one of its list of top safety focus areas for 2016.