Paris 2011: Thales Exploring Future Cockpit Displays with Odicis

 - June 19, 2011, 9:15 PM

Even as it works toward delivery of the first flying A350 cockpit later this year, Thales (Hall Concorde) is exploring possibilities for the post-2020 generation of aircraft at its Le Haillan facility in Bordeaux. The one-display cockpit interactive solution (Odicis) featured in the company’s pavilion here is intended to help define what Thales terms cockpit 3.0, a successor to the first- and second-generation flight decks represented by the Concorde, with its separate instrument for each parameter, and the A320, which allocated a single display per function.

The A350 will stick with the A320-derived format used by the A380 to minimize the amount of retraining needed as pilots move from other Airbus models, though the displays themselves will be bigger, lighter and less power-hungry. As Sebastien Perrignon, A350 program manager, explained at Le Haillan before the airshow, the A350 will have six 15-inch diagonal screens in place of the A380’s eight eight- by six-inch screens for a 60-percent increase in display area. But the screens will be divided to present each pilot with the familiar primary flight and navigation displays side by side, using the same colors and symbology.

Each screen has the same part number and uses the same software, and each incorporates a computer to generate head-up display and airport navigation imagery. The total weight saved by reducing the number of screens and eliminating the separate image generators is 15 kilograms, Perrignon said, while power consumption is reduced by 150 Watts.

As four of the screens cover the functions of the A380’s eight, the other two, at the extreme left and right, are available for onboard information system (OIS) functions, such as charts, manuals and performance calculations. Integrated with the avionics rather than stand-alone as on the A380, they are controlled by the same keyboard and cursor control units as the main screens, so the pilots can share information by moving it to one of the center screens. They also provide automatic backup if one of the center display units fails.

Alongside the A350 cockpit mock-up that functions as a representative test bench, Thales is using a PC-based simulation platform for preliminary development and testing, plus the iDeck demonstrator that was shown here two years ago. The iDeck was developed originally to demonstrate the company’s technologies and display know-how to Airbus during the selection process. Now it is being used to develop new formats and to demonstrate new symbology and concepts to Airbus and airline pilots.

Prototypes of most system hardware and the first version of the associated software have already passed acceptance tests in Airbus’s labs and simulation benches, Perrignon said. The first full specification software standard, including HUD and airport navigation functions, has been integrated on the test bench at Le Haillan ahead of delivery to Airbus this summer, and the first flying hardware will follow before the end of the year.

Thales’ Cockpit 3.0 research, meanwhile, is aimed at developing concepts for use on military aircraft, helicopters and business jets as well as the next generation of Boeing and Airbus airliners. Denis Bonnet, head of innovative cockpit design, said the idea is to design the cockpit around the crew, so the Odicis cockpit has a single screen that can be tailored to what the crew wants to do.

One idea is to have a new mission management display for the left-seat pilot with the PFD and 3-D terrain on the right to support a division of responsibilities that would see one pilot flying and the other managing the mission. “Most mission management is head down while the pilot is usually head up,” Bonnet explained.

“They can also interact with the screens,” he said. “We wanted to test the ability to take benefit from a touch screen.” The screens enable imagery to be rearranged, while maps can be zoomed and manipulated in the same way as an iPhone screen.

The Odicis cockpit uses five projectors behind the screen to generate the imagery with a new, higher level of contrast and brightness. The ideal configuration would have a depth of just six inches behind the screen, but that would have required prohibitively expensive folded optics, Bonnet said. In a real cockpit there could be twice as many projectors, and they could be of different types to avoid common mode failure and ensure the pilot still had the PFD if one failed.

Other possibilities include using organic LED screens or a flexible display with curved ends. And because most mission management will be head down while the pilot is head up, piloting information could be presented on a head-up or helmet-mounted display.