Lufthansa Technik Shows the Future of Cabins
If the word techniks means anything in Lufthansa Technik, it’s technology. The commercial and business aviation powerhouse in maintenance and cabin completions is providing a glimpse here at NBAA-BACE of what it is developing today to shape the future.
We talked with Andrew Muirhead, head of original equipment innovation, about the latest developments.
Organic light-emitting diode screens bring the same effects as high-definition TV but can be shaped and rolled to fit interiors and ceilings, or perhaps replicate windows when linked to an external camera. Lufthansa Technik is working with LG Electronics to develop and certify OELD for aviation. On show here is a 110-in.-surface-area OLED screen made by joining together two sheets of 0.4-mm-thick plastic foil.
“We’re testing them for aviation,” says Muirhead. “The largest TV screen you can put into an aircraft today is about 40 inches. We’re exploring how to go bigger.”
It’s far more difficult than it sounds, says Muirhead. “When you’re on the ground in your living room and you talk to Alexa or Siri, you’re going through the Internet, so the voice processing and dictionaries are based on the ground. When you’re in the air – if you lose connectivity, the last thing you want is not to be able to communicate with the system.
“The challenge has been how do we get that natural voice programing in the cabin with a localized library that is going to be understood by the different people who use the system?” English is the initial language; others are planned for later.
You’ve heard of Wi-Fi; well, this is data transmitted by light at the speed of light. Lufthansa Technik began working on it four years ago for aviation applications, and so far is showing that it can stream video from a light source to a monitor, in line-of-sight. “But what we’re showing and what we’re doing are two different things,” says Muirhead, who won’t disclose the potential the company sees in the technology. Needless to say, Li-Fi is immune to “noise” and interference, and can be seen as fiber-optic cable without the cable. Its disadvantage is if someone walks between the source and the receiver, it cuts out.
Autonomous Safety Checks
“Rather than having the flight attendant annoying the business jet travelers if they're strapped in prior to takeoff, we have developed sensors where we can determine that automatically. The galley screen shows if they’re strapped in via a sensor built into the seat belt. The sensors harvest energy from the action of the seat belts and don’t require an electric connection.”
“You'll probably remember back in the 1980s, there was the big discussion about fly-by-wire. Some of those cables in the future will be replaced with wireless technology,” says Muirhead. Standards are currently being discussed for wireless avionics intra-communication. “We’re developing the modules, so what we would like to do, once the standard is adopted, is to provide these modules to the industry so that anybody who wants to build wireless avionics products in the same way today that you buy an ARINC 429 chip can do so.
Cabin crew often scribble a defect on a napkin before telling maintenance crew, with much lost in translation. Lufthansa Technik has developed a defect-reporting system that uses object recognition in a mobile device to report a defect. “They see an augmented-reality view through the camera of their phone, point at the object where the defect is and select the defect. So let’s just say, for example, the leather was scratched. They would point the camera at that seat, and it will automatically recognize the scratch.
“When you take delivery of your aircraft, there’ll be standard elements, but all of the customized elements will be added to the library, and then what the software does is compare the current state to the original delivery state. If it sees differences, it can say, “Hey, there’s something wrong here, because this doesn’t match the delivery state.” This could be on the market in the next two years.
“We’re working on many things we’re not showing,” says Muirhead. For example, how sensors can be used to monitor passenger health, or to gather additional maintenance data. “We are spending quite a lot of effort looking into autonomous sensors in the aircraft cabin.”