New servers promise intelligent data crunching for IoT of aviation

The inflight connectivity industry is keen to tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. The benefits of IoT to flight operations, maintenance, and cabin crew are frequently cited, with better monitoring of systems key to delivering a solid return on investment. And for connectivity hardware and service providers, this means a lot more data flowing on and off the aircraft, more bits in the pipes and more money to be made.

But what if all that IoT data is not streamed off the plane? What if more and more of it is processed and managed on board rather than on the ground? For hardware provider Kontron, that’s one of the compelling propositions it is making for the next generation of onboard servers it is selling.

RJ McLaren, manager of product marketing at Kontron, recently highlighted some of the specs in the company’s latest iteration of onboard server hardware. The new servers, expected to be delivered starting in mid-2017, represent a major boost in processing power and storage capacity. McLaren believes these factors will shift the balance for some data processing, telling RGN:

That sever is going to be well suited to drop in a lot of different software applications to process and index that data on the aircraft, before it actually gets offloaded. With this new server solution a lot of things can be done real time. Some of that data could be highlighted, and be sent off board [via] the connectivity system so that operations knows something … That’s really going to help keep operational costs down.

In short, large chunks of processing and filtering could be done on board. If there’s data that needs to be highlighted and messaged off, it can be prioritized intelligently and sent in smaller packets via cabin connectivity, notes McLaren. “So if you’re crunching the data and you say ten percent is useful then that’s pretty good. Now you can send [just the 10%] over the satellite network. You’ve prioritized the early messages early, so everybody’s happy with that, and after landing you have some additional backup data going off that can be inexpensively offloaded over a 4G modem or local wireless.”

The question of real-time data processing becomes more challenging when considering what can be evaluated in isolation versus in conjunction with data streams from other aircraft. Weather forecasting is far more reliant on multiple sources than most predictive maintenance processes, for example.

But keeping costs down when using cabin connectivity to transmit data is smart. After all, the ultimate goal for airlines in moving down this path is to increase operational reliability and efficiency without increasing overall costs.

So what does it mean for connectivity vendors that want to see their broadband pipes transmit vast amounts of data? Operational “stability, reliability and resiliency” are key factors to consider when deciding what data to prioritize, according to industry executive Andrew Kemmetmueller, who previously served as VP of connected aircraft services at Gogo. Less time-sensitive data could queued up and trickled out to fill in the gaps when passengers are not using the service, he suggested.

Ultimately, increasing the onboard processing power and storage capacity of servers is a positive; and as software is developed to define prioritization, the end result will be more intelligent data transmitted in-flight.

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