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Contributing projects to the Disruptive Cockpit for LPA

Clean Sky's ambitious 'Disruptive Cockpit for Large Passenger Aircraft' initiative is supported by contributing projects that leverage emerging and evolving disruptive technologies. Here, we look at three key contributors to tomorrow's flight deck environment — projects that harness Li-Fi (a prospective successor to Wi-Fi), tactile touchscreens and advanced imaging technologies for autolanding. These Clean Sky projects endeavour to bring unprecedented levels of assistance and support to tomorrow's pilots, enhance safety, reduce energy consumption and reduce operational costs — key factors for promoting Europe's aeronautical capabilities and competitiveness.

ALC – pilot communications at the speed of light

Li-Fi (Light-Fidelity — a high speed, bidirectional and fully networked wireless communications system using light) could become a successor to Wi-Fi, transmitting data faster and consuming less energy. Clean Sky's ALC project is exploring the possibilities of this nascent technology in the cockpit to see whether Li-Fi could provide flight crew with a more impenetrable and more energy-efficient means of exchanging data.

"The objective of ALC is to develop a more secure wireless communications solution to replace Wi-Fi or Bluetooth because these are very easy to hack, with the aim to successfully operate connected devices in the highly demanding environment of a cockpit, and if you want to deploy more and more wireless solutions in the aircraft then we need to find ones that are immune to potential hacking or external intervention" says Sebastien Dubois, Project Officer for Large Passenger Aircraft at Clean Sky. "Li-Fi is safer, because you can only interact with the source of data in the area where the light source carrying the information is emitted, which means it's a more isolated system. So someone, for example in the cabin, will not be able to hack the communication".

The full scope of the project is to realise secure wireless Li-Fi for the flight crew's EFB (Electronic Flight Bag), headset and other pilot-connected devices and to show evidence that Li-Fi connection solutions can successfully address current RF transmission drawbacks, and are mature enough to successfully operate connected devices in the highly demanding environment of a cockpit. The main participants in the project are FACTEM, Pure Lifi Ltd, and XLIM.

"The point of investing in Li-Fi technology is to assess the benefits and develop standards and to prove that such a communication channel is beneficial, and to provide the pilot with a headset and/or associated mobile devices which could be used through Li-Fi communication" says Dubois. "The objective is to reach TRL5, and one of the challenges is to ensure that the dongle, which is used to operate that Li-Fi, can be matured in terms of power efficiency and autonomy because if we're talking about long-haul flights we need to ensure that all mobile devices can operate for at least 10 to 12 hours without any interruption". 

“The weight and size of the devices and how the dongle equipment will be miniaturized and optimised are also on the project's checklist. The second objective is to improve the connection robustness to comply with severe environments”, says Dubois: 

"We need to ensure that when we have very intense light in the cockpit we do not saturate the device and we can keep operating safely. Conversely, during night flights, the absence of light might be prejudicial to the functioning of the Li-Fi connection — so there are two extreme scenarios which deserve specific attention for deployment and implementation in the cockpit. Ultimately, we need to clearly demonstrate the data security of the device and the different conditions to demonstrate that this is immune enough to go to the next stage of development of such a technology".

The project has many potential benefits in addition to the data security aspects. The removal of wires brings comfort to the crew, therefore reducing stress. Li-Fi could also lessen the amount of wiring required in the aircraft and therefore reduce weight, thereby lowering fuel consumption. And on a strategic industrial level, there's a benefit to European aviation by pioneering and advancing this new science in the cockpit.
From a technical standpoint, there are also important issues of quality and communications clarity at stake, according to Simon Bazin, Head of Research & Innovation at FACTEM, the Bayeux-based company leading the project:

"The project is developing functional prototypes of wireless headsets and a tablet for cockpit crew that doesn’t use conventional RF (radio frequency) technologies such as Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. Instead, the ALC project aims to use “Li-Fi”, in response to challenges with current RF technologies. RF technologies are known to be unsecure, and susceptible to electromagnetic interferences, and these make them unsuitable for critical applications such as audio communications between pilot and Air Traffic Control. Li-Fi can be the solution to this. That’s what we intend to demonstrate".
The project is divided into four technical work packages plus a separate package for evaluation of the technology:

WP1 – Audio headset: the objective is to make a demonstrator of wireless headsets in a cockpit simulator
WP2 – Tablet: the objective is to make a demonstrator of a wireless tablet in a cockpit simulator
WP3 – Connected headset: similar to WP1, but the headset is equipped with sensors to monitor the pilot’s health
WP4 – Other applications: this WP aims at finding other applications for Li-Fi use in the cockpit or cabin
WP5 – Evaluation of the technology
In terms of measurable results so far achieved, Bazin remarks that "In WP1 (audio headset) (FACTEM-XLIM) a proprietary protocol has been developed for two headsets that in the initial stages can communicate up to 1,4 metres. This can be extended with further work. Audio latency, which is the main technical issue for this use has been measured initially at below 2.5ms, which is very low in comparison to other wireless technologies which have an average latency of 20ms in this use case. Lowering latency greatly improves user experience and reliability of the set-up".

"The customized WP2 – tablet (pure Li-Fi) is the first in-lab prototype which demonstrates throughput of 36 Mbit/s downlink and 22 Mbit/s uplink when perfectly aligned with the Access Point" adds Bazin. "On top of that, one very interesting result is that XLIM managed to develop a 3D model of light propagation in a real A350 cockpit. Now detection of the presence of smoke is being implemented, which will be very helpful for final integration in the cockpit simulator. In WP4 – other applications (pureLiFi – FACTEM - XLIM) 149 ideas were generated as part of this project. Through this process we have decided to produce a prototype of an optical wireless backbone for cabin use. This will result in reducing wires, complexity and increased reliability".  

By the end of the project, FACTEM anticipates that all prototypes will perform as expected by Airbus and the partners. And Bazin assures that at the initial stages, "everything is on track to achieve these results," adding that "a demonstrator of a Li-Fi headset (and possibility the tablet) should be available for the Paris Airshow 2019. The first prototype of a connected headset is planned for the end of 2019, while the optical backbone is expected in 2020".
If WP4 is successful, FACTEM expects that the total weight of the aircraft can be reduced, thereby reducing fuel consumption. Calculation of this possible reduction is part of Work Package 5.

Take a look at the video to see the project ALC in action!

LAPARTS – touch and go

The LAPARTS (Large Passenger Aircraft Reliable Touch Screen) project will demonstrate and validate the use of Touch Screen Control Panel (TSCP) displays for the systems management functions currently hosted within the Overhead Control Panel (OCP) in Large Passenger Aircraft.
It's an ambitious project from a technical standpoint, for today's conventional mechanical buttons in these overhead panels provide physical, tactile and visual information which is invaluable in turbulent weather or, if the worst should happen, in a smoke-filled cockpit. Could a digital successor cope with these scenarios?

"The ambition in the LAPARTS project is to leverage touch-screen technologies, first of all to replace the conventional buttons that exist in the cockpit overhead panels" says Clean Sky's Sebastien Dubois. "Classical buttons could be replaced with screen technologies, but there are challenges to be overcome in the context of using a tactile touch screen technology. We need to factor in how the pilot will get positive acknowledgement of a deployed button; we need to be able to sense the activation force to ensure buttons are not accidently activated; and the pilot needs to be able to detect the status of buttons if there is smoke in the cockpit, especially to detect and operate the appropriate button when there are no visual cues to confirm activation. So we have to be able to apply tactile technologies in cockpit operations so that pilots can work in specific adverse conditions. We could, in the second stage of the project, envisage how to relocate these solutions from the overhead position down to the cockpit pedestal".

Key to overcoming many of these challenges in this project is the fact that Esterline Belgium BVBA will combine its patented monitored PCAP touch screen with novel force sensing technology. This concept with complementary technologies offers a similar user experience to that of using consumer electronics while preserving the stringent safety standards associated with the highly critical aeronautical systems management functions.

"Using touch screen for the systems management functions gives a number of advantages to the operators (and their flight crews) in terms of ergonomics, crew training, weight, cost, flexibility, reliability and maintainability" says Heikki Deschacht, Expert Innovation Programs at Esterline Belgium. 

"An initial system architecture has been defined, including the mitigations for failure conditions with a severity that goes up to 'catastrophic'. The complementary touch screen technologies have been de-risked and the creation of a validation prototype is currently ongoing. The key elements of the tactile graphical user interface have been defined with a lot of attention to user comfort and safety".
Currently, the demonstrations happen on a bilateral basis between Esterline Belgium and Airbus. Workshops with pilots to collect end user feedback are planned, and the LAPARTS team plans to reach out to the certification authorities to ensure their interests and concerns are properly addressed by the project. 

By the end of the project it is anticipated that there will be a validation of the safety concepts throughout the entire control chain between the systems and the touch screens. LAPARTS will validate the novel tactile graphical user interface and the associated concept of operations for the systems management function through operational scenarios in cockpit simulators, and the project will also validate the touch screen technologies over the environmental conditions that are expected in the cockpits of large passenger aircraft.

In terms of environmental and social benefits, by getting rid of the heavy and expensive overhead control panel and by reducing or eliminating the associated cabling, the reduction of weight in the aircraft will translate into lower fuel consumption. "The initial estimates indicate an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of around 5.4 ton per aircraft and a fuel cost reduction of around US$1000 per aircraft" says Heikki Deschacht. "This impact assessment will be refined by the end of the project. The proposed concept contains a lower mechanical parts count and less interconnects which will contribute to higher reliability and hence to a reduction of schedule disruptions. This will foster the mobility of the European citizen. Additionally, thanks to the lower operating cost, Europe's citizens could enjoy cheaper flight tickets. Last but not least, welfare in Europe will improve through job creation in Europe’s growing aeronautical industry".

IMBALS – an intelligent approach

The IMBALS (IMage BAsed Landing Solutions) project will demonstrate the certifiability, reliability and performance of  a novel landing system for large passenger aircraft that uses images from onboard cameras to determine the aircraft’s position relative to the runway, without reliance on ground based precision instrument landing aids. Safety and certification considerations are paramount in this project which started in March 2018, and which benefits from the complementary expertise of Esterline Belgium, Esterline Avionics & Controls France, KU Leuven, Tekever and (UN)MANNED. The project runs until the end of August 2022.

"If we want to increase the level of automation in the cockpit we need to design and develop new capabilities which support the pilot during the landing phase" says Sebastien Dubois, Clean Sky's Project Officer for Large Passenger Aircraft. "On approach, aircraft typically use Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) to position the aircraft relative to the runway as it descends, but not all airports are fully equipped with this, or sometimes they have other limitations. The idea is to design and develop solutions which are based on either infrared or visual images to locate the runway and feed this information to the autopilot to enable the aircraft to land automatically".

The IMBALS project aims at providing a proof of concept in, or before, 2022, and will form one of the key functional ingredients that will be deployed in the cockpit to increase the level of automation. The image based landing technique offers a number of advantages for the operators in terms of independence from ground based infrastructure and in terms of workload reduction. 

"Today, around 60% of the airports operated by Airbus customers are equipped with ILS and not all of them allow automatic landing due to external factors (lights, interference, …) hence, image based landing can improve automatic landing availability" says Heikki Deschacht, Expert Innovation Programs at Esterline. "Image based landing is also one of the enabling technologies for enhancing the support to pilots during any approach and landing.  
Currently in its initial phase, the consortium partners have already conducted pre-studies of key elements of the concepts, and have also collected an extensive set of video footage that will be needed for developing and testing the algorithms. Tekever delivered a first version of their video player to stream footage as stimulus to the algorithms. The consortium kicked-off the requirements capture phase with the definition of the operational concept with Airbus and KU Leuven demonstrated some useful image processing algorithms during a 'vision workshop' that was actually the start of the system definition activity. 

"The consortium partners now have a good understanding of the key challenges in terms of verifiability and integrity of the data extracted from the images, and work has started on the principles that will address those challenges" adds Deschacht. "The IMBALS project will demonstrate and validate the image processing platform, and its hosted algorithms, certifiability and industrialization  in different system integration test benches and during flight tests. The project envisions both open loop and potentially closed loop testing. Additionally, IMBALS will validate the associated cockpit HMI and CONOPS (Concept of Operations) in a cockpit simulator. The project will validate the safety concepts inside the image processing platform and at aircraft level. Expected project results include a test framework and methodology for validation and verification of safety-critical image processing systems to support future certification and deployment of products relying on such technologies".

The project will bring positive social and environmental advantages too. Image based landing will reduce workload in the cockpit, thereby improving safety. "We are convinced that enhanced safety is a necessity for the growing air transport system and that this comes at the benefit of the citizens — those who travel as well as those who live under the flight routes. Don’t forget that approximately 60% of all aviation accidents still occur during approach and landing. So, there's room for improvement and IMBALS will contribute to that" says Deschacht.

IMBALS will help to reduce the occurrences of go-arounds, which will be a gain for the environment, the airport capacity, operator revenues and the travelling citizen.

"One of the limitations for the further growth of our mobility through air transport relates to airport congestion. Congestion gets worse when increased separation minima between traffic are imposed to secure the radio signals from the ground infrastructure that guide the aircraft along the ideal landing path" concludes Deschacht. "Image based landing relies less on those radio signals by which those separation minima can be relaxed and the airport throughput is secured".