Hardware

Inside the touchscreen cockpit of the future

Touchscreen cockpit of the future

By 2030, enormous touchscreens will dominate aircraft cockpits - if one research group's vision of the future of aviation comes true.

This concept cockpit is a single touchscreen dashboard known as One Display for a Cockpit Interactive Solution (ODICIS).

This concept, on display at the Farnborough International Airshow this week, has been developed by a consortium of European companies and universities, led by French aerospace and defence firm Thales.

The system is able to reconfigure itself to show the information most relevant to the pilot at any given moment.

For instance, when the plane is taking off and landing, the pilot needs to know the status of the aircraft's slats and flaps. However for the rest of the flight this information is generally not useful, so the system can be configured to remove that data automatically when it is not needed.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

27 comments
datollski
datollski

Why doesn't it respond...!!&^^*@@#@1 !! (sweety hands) i must remain calm.......Nope .......lets panic.....!!!!

SutharsanJIsles
SutharsanJIsles

If my experience with touchscreen phones is anything to go by, this can be more disastrous. Imagine non-responsive screens during critical moments...

ajayadedhela
ajayadedhela

It concerns me about the inevitable use of rich media files, like high resolution interactive pictures coupled with audios and incorporating more information than essential, will eventually end up in designing more compact, high complex cockpit. Although more information is more confusion to process and often needs confirmation (click OK to confirm), comparing manual switch which is at most 0 or 1.

AtlantaTerry
AtlantaTerry

"... data, images, charts and maps can take up as much space as needed ..." Just like on Star Trek. What's old is new again.

pgit
pgit

I have over 10,000 hours experience flying jet aircraft. I was chief pilot/director of ops for a corporate flight department for the last 11 years of that 18 year career. Introductions out of the way... this idea stinks, IF there isn't also a backup set of analog devices. I also don't see an advantage of one display over multiple displays. On that latter point, the argument is made that multiple displays are somehow 'limiting' as to what can be displayed. I remember the advent of the "glass cockpit" and we were assuaged by the argument that multiple displays meant that if one failed, the data it had displayed could be moved to a different one. So maybe you'd forgo a map in order to put the attitude display on it, should the primary attitude display fail. But the bottom line is you rarely go wrong with a device measuring differential air pressures, or that's a face connected by gimbals to a spinning gyro. An all-electronics system in a very electromagnetically harsh environment is a frightening prospect. BTW I saw a comment about flying "by the seat of the pants," any pilot that does that in anything other than a crop duster needs to be fired. You simply can't trust your senses in IFC. (instrument flight conditions) That's the #1 cause of crashes: not using your instruments, especially when they conflict with your senses. But the writer's point is correct, very basic information is all that's needed, in the realm of "absolute emergency." "Needle, ball, airspeed," a turn and slip indicator, and the airspeed indicator are all that's needed to fly the dang thing. Altimeter adds added p0itch information, plus obviously helps with terrain clearance. I know the egg heads will talk of "massively redundant" computers, "emf hardening" etc... tell that to the pilot looking at a totally dark glass cockpit... he/she'll be cursing the engineers to hell while frantically looking for the analog turn and slip gyro and airspeed indicator that aren't there. For a lesson as to what happens when the computer geeks are let loose on aircraft design, remember the Paris airshow Airbus crash a few years back... The pilot was doing a fly by in slow-flight (pre landing) conditions: gear down, lots of flaps, low speed. To recover all he had to do was throttle up, the overabundance of power the REAL engineers built into the thing would have lifted it up despite all the drag. But the egg heads programmed the computer to "know better," the computer saw the other flight conditions and interpreted them "you are landing," so when the pilot pushed the throttles up, the computer said "you can't really want to do that, you're landing!" and didn't spool up the power. The plane drifted quietly downward and glided to a "landing" in the trees off the airport a mile or so. Sure, they "fixed" that one, but my point is what other unforeseen conflicts lay in waiting in those computers? Give me physical flight controls any day. I have never, nor will I ever fly on an "fly by wire" aircraft. Statistics mean nothing, unless you are one of them.

atrue
atrue

Over 20 years ago, in a different life, the company I worked for at the time tried using a touch screen in a tank. Although it made a terrific demo at the various Army conventions, it really was a bad idea in the field. The reasons why? 1. At a static display in the convention hall, hitting the appropriate area on the screen was no problem. In the field, with the tank bouncing around (believe me, tanks bounce around) hitting the appropriate area of the screen became a real problem. If the area of the "button" was to small, it was possible to miss it completely or to hit more than one at a time in which the program got to make the decision as to what was pushed. If the "button" was made larger, more screen real-estate was taken up so that a smaller amount of data, etc. could be displayed. In times of distress, fairly common in a tank, trying to hit a button on a screen with it bouncing around, took the operator's attention away from what he was dealing with. This is a bad idea in a tank and in an airplane. There will be times that an airplane will be bouncing around, etc. and the pilots will have the same problem. 2. Having the displays change unbidden caused confusion and problems. If the operator looks at the screen expecting to change the type of round being fired and instead he sees an engine diagnostic that requires his attention before allowing the round change, a really big problem will occur. Same with an airplane. 3. The lack of a tactile response and the delay the computer gives while deciding what area has been touched caused some problems. There were main screens that the crew would be using most of the time. They got used to the position of the touch areas for those screens and would not necessarily look to see if their touching of the screen got them the response they wanted. Also, as they got use to the screens, if a particular screen required a second screen for additional information, they would not necessarily wait until the computer(s) brought up the second screen before touching the area wanted for the desired response. Once again, a potential problem in an airplane. 4. The thing that REALLY killed it for use in a tank was when we tried using arctic gloves on the screen when in the field. Nothing worked because the gloves were so big and bulky. It required removing them in order to work the screen which is not at all acceptable to the Army. This probably is not going to be a problem in a cockpit. For these reasons and many of the others already stated, the use of a full screen in a cockpit may be a real bad idea. It looks great in a static demo but in a real situation in a cockpit it may add to the confusion at a time that it is critical that appropriate decisions are made and executed.

SaadHusain
SaadHusain

Every OS that I have interacted with recently has the tendency to crash - Windows, iOS, Android, etc. That may be OK in a phone once in a while but never in a Car or Plane.

Crash2100
Crash2100

They keep talking about things like this in both cars and jets, yet it never seems to show up in the real world situation because people are still afraid of even getting their accident prone self-driven cars to be driven by the computers. That, and the truck drivers are probably afraid of having to find new jobs.

QMSGreg
QMSGreg

So now, when the screen goes blank, you lose all your gauges not just one. Sounds like a reasonable future to me . . . just like Niagara Framework. Let's tie everything we do and control to a single, EMP susceptible network. Brilliant, this rivals the planning that went into our urban mass transportation and urban highway systems - let's outdo our parents!

d_baron
d_baron

1. What I see here is as cluttered as a modern passenger jet cockpit of the last century. 2. Touch and gestures imply a screen nearby like one's favorite ipad. This system is too far from the operator, the pilots must lean forward to work it. No go. Would Kinect or such function in a cockpit environment? 3. In reality, most of the functions can be autonomous and automatic. The pilot sits there more to give the passengers confidence than to drive and to be there is manual intervention be required.

C-3PO
C-3PO

Does any one else see the resemblance to the STNG console that Worf used to stand at?

CXY
CXY

The cockpit photos look like one from the plane that crash into mountain recently. What we really want is a safe vehicle. With touchscreen, how can this aircraft be safer? It is only fancier. Obviously more electricity power needed, and more susceptible to electrical faulty. With control like this how to prevent not touching unnecessary control?

aphorist
aphorist

For a moment I had visions of a 'Ribbon' interface, where you click on 'Take Off' and it does an impression of Bleriot. I trust it will have a hardened surface so the gauges can be tapped. In case of a catastrophic display failure you can lift it up and the old analogue displays are below. I'd suggest a 'Privacy Filter' for whenever the Co-pilot is a bit suspect. I've seen the future and I'm upping my Valium!

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

There are others that don't have that problem.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I clearly pointed out that the one-screen type of system could give that pilot all the visual data he needs in a near-heads-up environment even when in IFC. I worked in those analog cockpits and I know about nearly every one of those gauges, gimbals and tapes and watched how they were constantly trying to improve on the information overload while still offering all the pertinent data. Heads-up displays in combat jets swiftly moved far beyond being a mere gun pipper to carrying enough information in a readable manner to fly IFR without having to move his eyes down inside the cockpit. Cockpit glass displays basically echoed that HUD and offered more data like radar and route information while for the longest time the plane kept the essential gauges, tapes and gimbals arrayed around those displays. Now, if you ask me the problem develops this way: Glass displays have effectively replaced all those mechanical devices for all purposes except under extreme emergency. Even well-experienced pilots have failed in IFR when they allow themselves to get confused over displayed data when it is basically representative of old IFR instruments--no matter how good those instruments are. If that same pilot is given a display that gives a VR representation of the plane's flight through clear air in an HUD format, at least part of that confusion is removed. In the case of a large commercial aircraft like the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, reducing the amount of visual data from all the engine gauges, etc, might have helped them to realize they were chasing a data error from the pitot tubes if [i]and I'm sure they have it[/i] their GPS gave a competing ground-speed indication. Based on the reports subsequent to that crash, the pilots kept trying to pull up and maintained the craft in a stall almost all the way down. Keep in mind these were three experienced pilots and they still made critical mistakes even though--as far as we know--their displays were working properly (displays only show the information they're fed. Iced pitot tubes obviously mean incorrect data--and yes, I do know those pitot tubes have heaters.) As for your physical flight controls--well, I can't argue that; the best redundancy is that 'seat of the pants' you so panned early on.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I won't deny that certain air conditions can create a rough ride, but that's the exception rather than the rule for flying commercial. So: 1) The ride in an airliner is quite a lot smoother than a ride in a tank. 2) Under normal circumstances, those displays don't change on an aircraft without a pilot's command. Yes, I do fully agree that unplanned changes to the displays would be confusing; but they're not likely to change without reason. 3) Depending on the system, delay is usually unnoticeable. It's not like they'll be flying the plane using those displays as physical controls--they're information displays. 4) Most pilots do not wear gloves while flying. Even if they did, there are capacitive-capable gloves available even for clean-room level use. Keep in mind, digital display systems are already in commercial aircraft--which invalidates almost your entire argument.

vegesm
vegesm

Luckily aircrafts don't have desktop OSs. The operating systems used in avionics are all customized real-time OSs which are designed not to fail.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I haven't seen a BSOD on Windows in years and OS X certainly hasn't crashed on me. iOS? No crashes on any iPhone I've used or my first-gen iPad. Now, granted I'm not the strongest fan in the world of Windows, but it's a heck of a lot better than it used to be. The point is, most aircraft have redundant systems--like three hydraulic systems, two to three electrical systems, multiple computer systems designed to work in parallel with each other using multiple sensors simultaneously. I can promise you the display has a minimum of two drivers and two complete sets of screens behind that glass. Even if one side went dead, the other side should still work. As I said once before, if everything goes, the plane's done for anyway.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... because pilots didn't trust their TFR (terrain-following radar). In almost every case of such an accident, the pilot grabbed the stick when he should have left it alone because the computers could react far more quickly than the pilot. Had he left it alone, the plane would have safely flown over what it ended up hitting. That was 50 years ago!

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... should have expected world and national populations to explode--sending 10x the number of cars down the roads they were designing at the time? They thought they were doing good expecting 4x the traffic. Here's the thing; If that display ever goes dead, then the plane itself is in a world of hurt already. EMP? Well, if it gets hit by an EMP burst, the world's at war and those folks are dead already. Don't you think they'd put at least some level of redundancy into a system like that? I don't believe it would be certified for flight if it didn't include some available backup capability. Even the iPad pilots use now is backed up by the co-pilot's iPad. One dies, you still have the other.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

If he needs to touch it, then the information he needs is obviously not where he needs it. Pilots used to fly "by the seat of their pants" using nothing but outside vision, a compass and maybe a map. Modern flight should be no different if the plane can provide that information in a 'clear sky' type of display. Sure, the engineer needs to know the condition of all the plane's systems, the pilot only needs to direct the plane's flight and handle the controls in an emergency. As you say, most of those functions can be autonomous and automatic; it's up to the designers to make them so. The designers, however, need to listen to the pilots as to what data is really needed where.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... when it's needed. The pilot also needs to be very familiar with the systems and not confused by multiple icons and overlying graphics. The best version I can think of is one that would give the pilot a 'clear sky' version of the plane's attitude and altitude while marking terrain and weather obstacles even when the plane itself is flying in heavy clouds or fog. Virtual reality is becoming Enhanced reality with modern technologies which should make the pilot's job much easier. Let the plane worry about itself; the pilot needs to focus on actually flying. The Air France plane should never have gone down in the Atlantic if the pilots had understood their displays better. Even with iced-over airspeed sensors, GPS should have provided enough ground-speed data for the pilots to retain control and fly out of the weather. There is such a thing as information overload and that crash definitely proved the point.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

I would be concerned about a display failure myself--a backup is a good idea--but more often the data sending unit (receiver, sensor, whatever) is the component that fails any more, not the display.

atrue
atrue

I must admit that you make good points. Things have changed in the years that we went through the testing. 1. I agree that, for the most part, the ride on a commercial jetliner is smoother than any tank. However, there have been times when a downdraft has caused me to miss my mouth with my drink and that is why I wondered how easy it would be hitting a spot on the screen in the cockpit. 2. I also agree that unplanned changing displays is bad but I had always felt that with proper planning, they could be completely avoided. However, powers that be insisted that certain events were priority and should take over the screen. I just capitulated on that with the hope that it would not get into production. 3. The system that we used was a good old Motorola 8088. It did have a bit of a problem keeping up with the tasks that it was being asked to do. Of course, embedded computers are a lot faster now so the lag time is probably almost undetectable. I guess that I did not understand how this display was to work. I was under impression that it took over the entire instrument control panel and would therefore definitely be affecting physical controls. 4. Ya, I really didn't think that the glove thing would be a problem. It was just an example how one little thing that might have been missed if not tested for could kill the entire project. I understand that digital displays are already in use but they are, for the most part, for information only. Although I am probably poorly informed, I know of no instruments/displays that are touch screen driven in the modern cockpit. Also, these are for specific systems that remain static on the panel, not the entire panel that can be changed. I guess that I am worried that this just might be a step to far. Is there really such an advantage to this new display that it over rules keeping the status quo and possibly risking the lives of the 500 or so in the back? In the case for full disclosure, I must admit I am still very wary of fly (or for that matter, drive) by wire although it seems to be working very well in many systems. So maybe I am just a little to cautious. We proved that drive by wire was not always a good idea. In an effort to build an all electric tank that had no mechanical backup for the steering and braking we encountered a real problem. On a steep sloop during testing, the system overheated and the entire electrical system tripped. We suddenly had 85 tons of tank rolling backward that could not be controlled nor stopped, heading for the spectators and parking lot. Not a good day at all.

atrue
atrue

That would be a great outcome. The systems are becoming better and better. If, 30 years or so ago, someone had told me that we could actually have vehicles that could drive/fly autonomously successfully, I would have told them we would more likely have flying cars. Guess you can't always be right.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

On the other hand, drive by wire--and fly by wire--are valid and in at least some cases have been working for over 20 years. The F-16 specifically has been fly-by-wire since its genesis and other aircraft--including commercial jets--have followed suit. Yes, there's still the potential for catastrophe, but with each new generation the individual risks go down, even if the potential for greater loss of life remains. The bigger the plane, the more lives at risk--but the lower the per-flight risk becomes. Now, wouldn't you like to see that same outcome on our highways?