Aircraft Cabin Management

Aviation companies collaborate to make aircraft cabins more ‘intelligent’

iCabin is a collaborative project to create a networked intelligent aircraft cabin, announced at AIX 2018.

The ever increasing presence of wifi on board aircraft, combined with the trend of using big data for predictive maintenance, is leading towards the inevitable development of a system that can monitor, record and then transmit information to the ground from a multitude of sources in the aircraft cabin, including equipment, services, and passengers.

RFID has been a forerunner, being used to quickly monitor date sensitive items like oxygen bottles and life vests (in the case of life vests, it can also be used to confirm their presence, a requirement for flight), but this is essentially a passive system.

For the future, the basic parameters include current, voltage and pneumatic pressure, which can be used to determine whether a huge variety of systems are working properly. In the seat, this would include recline mechanisms, inflatable cushions, and the IFE system, but the sensors could be extended to cover other activities.

For example, fitting a strain gauge to a seat allows movement in the seat to be measured, whether of the passenger or, if the aircraft is not in use, of degraded seat foam slowly returning to shape. A temperature sensor could check the passenger and possible overheating of electrics.

Confirmation that seat belts are fastened can be supplemented by confirmation that overhead bins are correctly closed. In turbulence or an emergency landing, the bins could be locked while unsafe passengers could be quickly identified and made secure. Other position data could include trays and backrests.

In the galley and lavatory, those basic parameters would include the correct functioning of electrical equipment and water supplies, while position sensors would confirm that stowed trolleys were properly locked and secured.

More specialised applications are also possible, such as a mobile phone signal detector; a hygrometer for measuring cabin humidity; a light meter; and even a tricresyl phosphate (TCP) detector, which would warn of engine oil contamination in the cabin air system.

Aircraft cabins, iCabin: Boeing unveils 787 Dreamliner Interior
Boeing unveils 787 Dreamliner interior

This could also apply to deicing fluid, another common contaminant. Cabin crews often report sick after these events but there is little testing done to show that these chemicals were actually involved. However, before this can become a reality, there is a need to define a common standard for all this data transfer.

At present, each manufacturer has its own closed system, whereas the ability to communicate means that cabins can be equipped with new and improved functions as and when they become available, and new and innovative products and applications can be integrated into the intelligent cabins more quickly.

The development of this standard is now underway in the intelligent Cabin (iCabin) project, with the main sponsors being Boeing and Etihad Airways Engineering.

However, the project is being funded by the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, which, in December 2017, provided a €3.9 million grant under its Luftfahrtforschungsprogramm (LuFo, Federal Aviation Research Programme).

This has brought Bühler Motor, Diehl Aviation, KID Systeme, Maintenance Center Europe, and Zodiac Aerospace into the project, along with the Technische Universität Hamburg (Hamburg University of Technology, (TUHH)) and the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW)).

The research project, which received approval in December 2017, has an expected completion date of March 2021. Etihad Airways Engineering, co-initiator of the project with Boeing and Steering Committee member in its role as associated partner, is providing first-hand maintenance, operator expertise, and feedback regarding the use and benefits of the new technology.

Bernhard Randerath, vice president of design, engineering & innovation, says his department will develop technical use cases and provide user requirements from the different target groups within the airline and MRO.

Aircraft cabins iCabin: wifi sensors
Wifi sensors across the kitchen area mean temperatures and heat can be controlled wirelessly

He points out that it currently too many cabin mechanics to dispatch an Airbus A380 as physical checks have to be made on all galleys and lavatories and every first and business class seat to confirm that they are fully serviceable. The airline has carried out a number of studies on passenger movement in the seat, being able to detect sleep and also nervousness about connecting flights.

For Boeing, iCabin is an extension of its Airplane Health Management system, which entered service in 2004, by harnessing the power of data, information, and analytics and combining connectivity and the development of an aviation Internet of Things (IoT) platform.

The company will have a research office in Munich and a research and development site at its Jeppesen subsidiary in Neu-Isenburg, including a ground rig. Diehl Aviation is leading the consortium, the avionics and cabin electronics specialist bringing extensive experience in directing similar international group projects.

It is concentrating on intelligent cabin applications; predictive health monitoring (preventative maintenance); expansion of crew functionality; digital passenger services; and the intelligent analysis of cabin data. In addition, it is researching into the improvement of materials and surfaces.

User interfaces and the monitoring of cabin modules (such as intelligent baggage compartments) will also be researched. The integration of sensors and actuators into the cabin network also forms a part of the work. Bühler Motor Aviation, based in Nuremberg is using its modular PAXCOM seat actuation system as the basis of research into personalisation, predictive health management and monitoring.

Intelligent actuators, as well as additional sensors, enable the real-time recording of operating data, error messages and individual passenger usage data. KID Systeme, a subsidiary of Airbus, specialises in electronic cabin systems and services, including in-seat power, onboard connectivity, wireless content service, and safety systems.

It will have a focus on network architecture and the continuous development of digital data networks. New software applications are envisaged for different user groups such as maintenance crew, cabin crew, network operators and maintenance planners.

Aircraft cabins, iCabin: IFE staus
Control movement and IFE status hands-free

Maintenance Center Europe will ensure that the proposals align with certification requirements.

The Institute of Aircraft Cabin Systems at TUHH is a foundation institute of Airbus Operations and has been working for almost ten years in the field of aircraft cabin management and other electronic cabin systems, including the loT and Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), which are mechanisms controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms, tightly integrated with the internet and its users.

As an associate iCabin partner, TUHH is a member of the technical advisory committee and contributes with expertise in requirements management, design, integration, and certification of complex information and communication technology systems for an intelligent aircraft cabin. It will be joined by DWBH.

Zodiac Aerospace will be providing galley equipment to be monitored for predictive maintenance in the ground rig at Jeppesen. The project’s aim is to define the communications standard by mid-2019 and for a complete system to be ready for flight test in 2021.

The eventual aim is to develop an ARINC or SAE approval that can be used across the industry, with the possibility of retrofitting current aircraft.

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