Thales Unveils Future Cockpit

 - June 16, 2013, 5:30 AM
Avionics 2020. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Thales will today unveil its vision for a future cockpit for commercial aircraft. Avionics 2020 is a demonstration of technology that is available now and could be in service in seven years’ time, and it looks quite different from today’s cockpits.

Gone are the complicated, multi-color displays, with lots of symbology overlaid; while coming in are somewhat austere, monochrome screens that nevertheless offer a rich menu of information. Think iPad. Think touchscreens. Think of dragging data from one screen to another. The two displays in the lower center of the pedestal can even be detached from their housing, for more comfortable interaction.

“The human factors experts told us that pilots need less extraneous information, so they can concentrate on the essentials,” said a manager in the Thales Cockpit Competence Center near Bordeaux, France. The demonstrator “is much more pilot-friendly, especially with respect to air traffic management. We have focused on the piloting tasks, rather than being system-driven,” he added. There are head-up as well as head-down displays, and this cockpit could theoretically be adapted to helmet-mounted displays, too.

Thales (Chalet B253) describes Avionics 2020 as “an intuitive solution, comprising all aircraft systems and functions.” The cockpit builds on the Odicis (one display for a cockpit interactive solution) that Thales showed here at Paris two years ago. The displays can be personalized, to the extent allowed by each customer. They have the option to do this themselves, “to retain control over IP aspects and enjoy greater autonomy in the development,” said Thales.

Data from various avionics and non-avionics systems onboard the aircraft are merged before display. This feature is found on the latest combat jets, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Avionics 2020 also borrows from Thales’s experience in designing the cockpit of the French Rafale fighter.

NextGen and Sesar functionality is embedded, and so is Green Sky in the form of fuel burn notifications, and a feature to adjust the takeoff and climb profile to trade CO2 emissions against noise.

“We are showing the world that a cockpit designed around more seamless interaction between the pilot and the electronics is no longer a purely intellectual concept, but a viable commercial application,” said Denis Bonnet, head of innovation for the Thales Cockpit Competence Center. The Thales Center is organized like a modern software development campus, a la Google, in order to foster innovation. “We include every discipline from engineering to software; it’s very non-traditional for Thales,” said Alain Paul, the center’s director. The Airbus A380, A350 and A400M cockpits were all developed here, too.