Cabin app-titude

Tech demonstrator tests 'smart' airplane interiors

August 15, 2016 in Commercial

Talk about cabin-telligence.

The future of the commercial airplane cabin experience may be in “smart” features that allow passengers to interact with the airplane like never before: Smartphones that talk to smart lavatories or even smart lighting controlled through wireless connections.

That’s why engineers in Commercial Airplanes’ Product Development have created a technology demonstrator called vCabin, an interior mock-up of an airplane cabin with an advanced, wireless network behind the scenes through which new technology, such as futuristic "smart cabin" concepts, can be connected and made functional. 

“The vCabin is a great tool to test the inventive ideas we come up with for future cabin improvements,” said Deborah Regan, principal investigator in Product Development. “We can get them working, put the ideas through their paces and get a real-world evaluation of the innovations in action.”

Recent technology tested in vCabin takes connectivity and convenience to the next level, Regan said. Engineers tested technology that connects passengers to their environment through their smart devices. They could control personal lighting, order food or drink items, check lavatory availability or download entertainment.

Testing involved connecting smart devices to reading lights and other features through small chips embedded near the specific features, requiring no Wi-Fi service. Regan said the connection to the chip is secure and is neither connected to flight-critical airplane systems nor to the traditional in-flight entertainment system.

Cabin crew members, meanwhile, also could use the technology to monitor cabin systems during flight and make sure that everything is working at the highest level, she said.

If there’s a problem, the cabin device could automatically inform maintenance personnel on the ground so it can be repaired immediately after touchdown. It also could provide cabin crew with information about frequent fliers, including exact seat location and their preferences, which would help provide customized customer service. Additionally, the crew could monitor lavatory status and passenger orders or control cabin lighting.

All that information could be displayed on tablets, smartphones or watches that crew members would monitor, she said.

“We’re really thinking about pushing the boundaries past what we know today,” said Dan Bittner, Product Development lead engineer. “That’s really what this vCabin tool is about — pushing that boundary and accelerating the technology through rapid demonstration and development.”