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Cockpit of the future: a look into tomorrow
News/ > 2020/ > Cockpit of the future: a look into tomorrow/
Cockpit of the future: a look into tomorrow
17 February 2020 FlytX, Virtual AI Assistant in Development for Future Business Jet Cockpits

The research and development engineering division of Thales is working on a version of their touchscreen FlytX avionics suite with an artificial intelligence virtual pilot assistant for future business jet cockpits, according to an overview of the concept provided by the team during their InnovDays 2019 event in Paris.

A helicopter version of FlytX was first launched during the 2019 Paris Air Show, with Thales targeting certification and entry into service in 2022 for the French military’s fleet of Airbus H160Ms. Now a team of engineers is working on a variant of the touchscreen cockpit, which is designed to fly an aircraft completely using smart displays and no embedded avionics bay style computing, for the business jet market, according to Sebastien Boussiron, a senior research and development engineer for Thales.

«FlytX [is] an avionics solution that is already under development for helicopters. We’re now preparing this for the business jet market,» Boussiron told Avionics International. «In business jets, we’re already onboard several platforms in terms of electrical flight controls, but this would be our first full fledged avionics cockpit solution, to be in competition with Honeywell and Collins.»

Thales' integrated modular avionics strategy incorporates the autopilot, flight management system, synthetic vision and other optional elements, all customized into FlytX, cutting down on the need for both federated hardware and dedicated controls to optimize size, weight and power (SWAP). The system integration and virtualization results in a 30-to-40 percent reduction in SWAP, according to the company, as well as a decreased need for line-replaceable units. >>>
>>> Boussiron explained how FlytX is designed to contain all of the computing power normally stored in avionics bays within smart displays instead, while still providing business jet pilots with a control column to fly the aircraft and a physical keyboard as backup. Another major focus within the development of FlytX is keep its architecture customizable, crew-centric and natively collected to a digital cloud where data for specific aircraft types and routes are available on a per-flight basis for pilots.

During a simulated demonstration flight between Le Bourget and Amsterdam, Boussiron also showed how Thales wants to integrate an artificial «virtual assistant» into the human machine interface that will provide both voice and flight intention recognition to pilots.

«Using artificial intelligence we want to introduce a virtual assistant that will help pilots with routine tasks,» Boussiron said. «For example, if air traffic controllers provide direction and tell the pilot ‘turn left heading 2-7-0,’ the assistant will interpret this voice command and propose its corresponding necessary flight control changes on the display. The pilot can then easily accept or reject that command. That’s one thing we want to stress is that the human pilot would always be in control.»

As the demonstration flight proceeded to enter the Amsterdam flight information region (FIR), the virtual assistant also proposed the new necessary frequency by which pilots would be able to communicate through voice with air traffic controllers in Amsterdam on a downward facing display. By dragging that frequency into the active frequency channel, that then becomes the new active frequency the pilot is using.

While in flight, pilots can also manipulate waypoints by changing the view of a display to show the entire flight plan. By swiping their finger along the visualized route, the autopilot is automatically updated to steer the aircraft to the next waypoint.

As part of bringing the FlytX concept to business aviation, Boussiron’s team is also creating a software development kit where business jet OEMs can build their own applications and host it within a cloud provided and managed by Thales called «Mission Hub.»

«We believe this will be ready to enter into service by 2025, there are still some regulatory hurdles to clear and more development to go through,» Boussiron said. «We are already in discussion with EASA about the concept.» >>>
>>> Thales Explains Connected Cockpit Approach Behind 2020s FMS, PureFlyt

Thales provided details about its next generation flight management system (FMS), PureFlyt, which executives and avionics engineers here at its avionics headquarters explained will be the world’s first FMS with open world connectivity embedded in its architecture and functionality.

Expected to enter into service by 2024, Thales’ avionics engineering team first started designing PureFlyt in 2015 and has already amassed 100 million actual flight hours using a new machine learning approach to testing its capabilities with real flight data, waypoints and airports. Peter Hitchcock, vice president of commercial avionics for Thales, told journalists PureFlyt will not only be capable of 4D trajectory operations, adding time to the three traditional spatial dimensions used for aircraft positioning updates, but will also be the first FMS capable of 5D trajectory. The next generation FMS will be constantly proposing an optimal flight path for pilots to follow that accounts for changes in an aircraft’s weight as it burns fuel along a given route.

«In the past, the flight management system used to require a dedicated computer,» Hitchcock said. «With Pureflyt, now we've made such progress that we don't need it to run on a dedicated computer. We could run it alongside other systems on a shared computer using the concept of integrated modular avionics. We don't lose security or performance doing this, but we can probably save 20 kilos of weight on every flight by eliminating the dedicated computer and putting it in an IMA network.»

A final design architecture has not yet been solidified by Thales’ engineering team, however Hitchcock and others behind the development of PureFlyt indicate that it will feature two dedicated computers for redundancy that are always checking each other for accuracy. The design team currently has the software and operating system for PureFlyt running on a mock Airbus A350 cockpit in a development lab where it is controlled through two touchscreen displays and synced with connected electronic flight bag (EFB) running the company's Aviobook flight optimization application.

Described by Thales as a «technological breakthrough,» a unique design element of PureFlyt is the embedded connected and processing aspects, which are capable of feeding all the various elements of the global air traffic ecosystem into an aircraft’s flight plan in real time. >>>
Didier Poisson, an experimental test pilot for Thales, shows how pilots can uplink re-routing information from an EFB connected to PureFlyt. The new flight management system's software will also feature Aviobook's (an EFB application managed by Thales) in-flight optimization module
>>> Hitchcock explained that PureFlyt will be able to communicate dynamic real-time changes to an aircraft's flight path with air traffic controllers using traditional data link or airline operations center messaging. The FMS will enter service already featuring a concept being flown in its initial stages currently by EasyJet, which in July became the first European airline to start downlinking projected profiles to air traffic controllers at the Maastricht Upper Area Control Center (MUAC).

«At times of interruption the FMS is the critical computer on the plane, that’s what is telling the pilot how much energy he has on the plane, how fast he can turn, how much fuel is left, all of these calculations at a moment of change,» Hitchcock said. «It is the source of critical performance calculations for an aircraft. PureFlyt taking this forward will perform these calculations in four dimensions, altitude, longitude latitude and time. It will also, through connectivity, share that information with other systems. So what we’re doing with PureFlyt is we’re eliminating the gap between the strategic EFB plan and the FMS plan, its now one plan in the same.»

The unveiling of PureFlyt comes as other companies are also heavily invested in the scaling up concept of the connected FMS. Mike Ingram, vice president of cockpit systems at Honeywell Aerospace, told Avionics International during a visit to their facility earlier this year that the connected FMS is one of their «biggest investments.» GE Aviation and Avionica have also developed a two-way link between third party EFB applications and GE’s flight management computer featured on the Boeing 737.

However, those connected flight management computers are taking existing FMS technology and making them more capable of consuming data from EFB apps. Thales has emerged as the first company to develop a completely new FMS with this functionality embedded as the standard flagship feature.

On the testing side, Hitchcock said the technological maturity of PureFlyt has made significant advances due to the way they’re able to test the system now. >>>
>>> «In the past 20 years, we’ve racked up 100 million flight hours on our FMSs, we’re now talking a matter of days to get the same through using machine learning,» Hitchcock said. «We designed the FMS to respond to an incredibly intense machine to machine interrogation and really check everything. That means we don’t just test some of the data we can test real data and we’re also checking this in five dimensions now, in addition to the fourth dimension I mentioned of time, the fifth dimension is weight because aircraft behave differently at different weights.»

The first public unveiling of PureFlyt simulated flight between Lisbon, Portugal and Paris, France was provided using PureFlyt in an A350 cockpit. Inside the lab where the new FMS is being developed, Didier Poisson, a test pilot for the company, showed how the system is capable of using the strategic view of a flight plan generated by an tablet flight planning application to re-route the aircraft around areas of severe weather using real-time information.

He also explained how Thales is using a dedicated server onboard the aircraft to check the accuracy and authenticity of any data received by flight management computer. Pilots will also have control over data received by PureFlyt.

It remains to be seen, however, how connected PureFlyt will ultimately be when it enters into service. Thales officials declined to comment on whether a router or modem would be embedded into the new FMS, which would enable it to connect to effectively any «open world» connectivity network, such as the air to ground or satellite-based in-flight connectivity services offered by companies such as Gogo, SmartSky or Viasat.

«I don’t see that happening in the first phase,» Wiehelen said, when asked whether PureFlyt will use cabin connectivity systems. «I would say more from certified satcom, from the likes of Inmarsat or Iridium. Simply because the environment is conservative and it needs to be certified.»

While most of the functionality of PureFlyt demonstrated during the unveiling discussed specific airline applications and usage, the company is developing the system to be ready for variants on military air transport aircraft, helicopters and even to be available as a retrofit. >>>
>>> Jean-Paul Ebanga, vice president of flight avionics for Thales, said the development of PureFlyt was also created with the millennial generation of pilots that will become the majority of those in commercial airliner cockpits over the next 20 to 30 years. Ebanga believes PureFlyt will start a new era in connected cockpit avionics.

«In some ways it's a new world of flying in the making, and we are currently providing the enabler, the digital cockpit, to make this world become a reality for future pilots,» Ebanga said. «A paradigm shift in onboard cockpit electronics is taking place in the connected airspace and PureFlyt is at the forefront of this digital new age, leading the next generation of flight management system that truly makes the aircraft a node of connectivity.»

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