Airbus aircraft are about to get a whole lot smarter.
The aviation company announced on Wednesday that it has begun in-flight trials of its newest cabin technology, which connects passengers and crew to elements of the plane including the seats, cargo, and even the lavatories.
Airbus first unveiled plans for its Connected Experience at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo last year. The Internet of Things (IoT) platform links real-time information from cabin components, including the meal trolleys and overhead bins, to crews and passengers aboard the flight in order to create a more personalized — and digitally traceable — experience.
According to a company press release, the data consolidated from the platform will be uploaded to the "Skywise" cloud service, an open data platform developed by Airbus for the aviation industry.
According to Airbus, the platform provides significant benefits for flight crews, which will allow them to access information like meal and seat preferences in one place, and could facilitate remote communication with those on board. For passengers, the system allows for a more personalized travel experience, while airlines would be able to utilize aggregated cabin equipment trends (say, for example, which lavatory is most frequently used during a flight) to perform "predictive maintenance" on cabin elements.
Overhead bins, the company says, could be linked to sensors which indicate to passengers which spaces are free.
The company has begun trialing the smart system and connected cabin components on its A350-900 Flight Lab aircraft based at its Hamburg facility, claiming it is the first aircraft manufacturer to carry out such testing.
These include an iSeat by Recaro, which comes outfitted with sensors in the armrest, backrest and tray table, a connected galley area, and a remote wireless cabin management system.
According to APEX, the company is also testing smart cameras outside the lavatories to measure passenger wait times.
Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus's vice president of cabin marketing, said Tuesday at the aviation trade show in Los Angeles that the technology could help flight attendants measure when someone inside the lavatory may need assistance, Bloomberg reported.
According to Bloomberg, each seat will signal green when the seatbelt is fastened, and red when unbuckled. The goal of the system, it says, is to make boarding and in-flight security checks more efficient. The company hopes to roll out the technology not only on its test aircraft, but also on its fleet of A321 planes in 2021, and its larger A350 series in 2023.
"It's not a concept, it's not a dream: It's reality," Wuggetzer said.