Aspen Avionics introduced its Connected Panel system at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show in late July and expects the first applications to be available to customers by year-end. Connected Panel integrates certified avionics, in this case Aspen’s Evolution PFD and MFD glass-cockpit displays, with mobile devices. The first applications will be for the iPad; Aspen is planning Android apps as well.
“Many of these apps are already being used and integrated effectively into cockpits,” said Peter Lyons, Aspen founder and vice president of product management. “We’re connecting the last dot. It allows apps to be more useful to the pilot in his current operation.”
For Connected Panel to work, an interface is needed between the mobile device and the installed avionics. This is provided by Aspen’s CG100 box, which is mounted behind the instrument panel. The CG100 can connect to iPads and Android tablets via USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and it can store data on flash memory. The CG100 also contains security protocols, essentially firewalling the installed avionics from the iPad to prevent any issues with the iPad corrupting the avionics. “Our secret sauce,” said Lyons, “is the way we allow data to propagate into the system and do it in a way that the FAA finds acceptable. We firewall the aircraft systems from malicious attack and things that the FAA is concerned about. And we make sure there are no adverse reactions on certified systems.”
What Connected Panel doesn’t do is allow an iPad or Android tablet to control the aircraft through the autopilot or manipulate critical data on the cockpit displays. “This is the most often misunderstood or misquoted aspect of our system,” Lyons said. “That’s not something the FAA will ever allow.” But Connected Panel does allow the GPS to deliver raw data to the autopilot, he added, “then provide a large feature-rich moving map to supplement that left-right needle deviation to improve pilot awareness without a huge investment.”
Lyons is well aware that the iPad’s basic functionality is not new in the computer world. Various types of tablet computer have long been available running on Microsoft Windows and other operating systems. “It’s not like portable computers haven’t been tried in the cockpit in the last 10 years,” he said. “But the iPad is the first device firing on all cylinders to come along.”
“The touchscreen is a huge piece of that,” added Brad Hayden, Aspen vice president of marketing. “We never had that before with EFBs. This is another way to interface with your avionics. There are going to be times when you want to modify a flight plan on the iPad or on the GPS. You might want to use knobs or the touchscreen. We’re providing myriad options to be able to work with avionics.”
Another factor in the utility of Connected Panel, Hayden added, is that it will allow older GPS navigators interfacing with Aspen Evolution displays to become touchscreen-capable. “We’re restricted only by a GPS’s ability to receive and transmit data through our displays,” he explained.
“Now we can put a large-format touchscreen on your KLN 89,” added Lyons.
The first Connected Panel system is Aspen’s Connected Pilot, and this includes the CG100 and will sell for $2,500. Connected Pilot works with the Bendix/King KSN 770 navcom/GPS navigator, which Aspen is helping to bring to market, and pilots will be able to use the Connected Panel iPad app to tune radios and crossfill flight plans from the iPad to the KSN 770.
Connected Panel is designed as an open-architecture system, and Aspen has invited developers to create apps that will bring additional functionality to the system. But, for now at least, Connected Panel will work only with Aspen Avionics Evolution Pro displays and the KSN 770 (installed in an Aspen cockpit).
ForeFlight is developing a Connected Panel app that will allow pilots to plan a flight on the iPad using ForeFlight Mobile then load that wirelessly into the KSN 770. Pilots will also be able to use the ForeFlight app to tune the KSN 770’s radios, by touching the iPad screen to push a frequency from a displayed chart to the standby window in the navcom. Another developer, AvConnect, will allow automatic logging of aircraft performance data and pilot hours into the AvConnect iPad app. Hilton Software is also planning Connected Panel capability for its WingX Pro 7 app.
A big benefit of Connected Panel for iPad users is that GPS data from cockpit navigators can be delivered to the iPad easily, eliminating the need for an external GPS or relying on the iPad 3G’s internal GPS.
More than a dozen companies are partnering with Aspen on Connected Panel apps or hardware, including avionics manufacturers Avidyne, Honeywell Bendix/King, J.P. Instruments and PS Engineering, and software and app developers AvConnect, Coradine Aviation Systems, Digital Sectional, ForeFlight, Hilton Software, iFlightPlanner.com, Jeppesen, Parrot, Pinnacle Aerospace, Seattle Avionics and Sporty’s Pilot Shop. “Once [developers] get the hang of Connected Panel, we will see lots of apps,” Hayden predicted.
The first implementations of Connected Panel are just the beginning of what this technology can accomplish. “I think our app partners are still exploring the possibilities,” he said. “They don’t know the limitations yet. That’s why the partner aspect is so critical. There are new partners talking to us now, and they’re looking at some really interesting apps. That’s the exciting aspect, creating this ecosystem that allows these partners to develop apps in their own areas of expertise. This is one of the most exciting things to happen in general aviation avionics in some time. The adoption rate of the iPad has been phenomenal. This will really leverage that.”
More important, according to Lyons, is that as a relatively new avionics company, Aspen is in a better position to allow an open-architecture avionics system like Connected Panel to foster creation of many new desirable features by partner developers. “Creating open architecture is easy for your own [products], but making the investment to work with a competitor’s stuff is difficult. We now have the opportunity to develop an open-architecture standard, where companies compete on market competitive issues and not market dominance issues. Let the best products win.”