HAMBURG — Collins Aerospace is taking a big step towards finally realising the benefits of the IoT-connected cabin with a new set of in-cabin trials on multiple partner airlines, while also raising the controversial question of just how much artificial intelligence airlines and passengers want involved in cabin service.
The connected galley trials involve light-touch modifications to existing galley equipment to, in essence, IoT-ise them. These mods enable all the benefits of the connected aircraft, like automated maintenance requests, predictive repair or replacement, functionality or service analytics, and much more, but without requiring substantial certification changes.
The idea, Collins’ vice president for galley inserts sales and marketing Brian Schmalz tells Runway Girl Network, is “adding some sensors to collect a few additional data points. The real key of what we’re adding is, essentially, a wireless transceiver daughterboard onto the existing main board that all of a sudden gives you the ability to connect to a wifi network.”
Through this, Schmalz says, Collins is able to “add wireless connectivity to essentially all of our existing units, without changing anything else about them — without even changing the part number — and all of a sudden flip a switch and provide our customers all of this information.”
The connected galley, which Schmalz confirms is not intended to require supplemental type certification, is connection-agnostic, and airlines can choose to relay the non-safety-related information over the same public network used for passengers, a crew network, a hidden network not used by passengers, via a separate connection, or indeed via cellular/wifi transmission on the ground. Power draw is expected to be negligible compared with the requirements for, say, a steam oven or coffee pot.
Collins has multiple airline partners ready to go with field trials of the system later this year.
Elsewhere on the connected cabin agenda, Collins is looking to apply artificial intelligence to the hard and soft product within the cabin, and particularly in the seat area, with in-seat AI-processing cameras.
Brian St Rock, the integrator’s director of advanced technology & laboratories, tells RGN that the move, called InteliSence, is “an intelligent product system concept, based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. There’s a lot of existing sensor data already within the seat, or really in any product, so there’s a lot of data that’s that’s already available, either within the seat or the communication bus on the aircraft. InteliSence combines the power of that data with some new optical sensors that we’re that we’re installing within the seat.”
“What we’re trying to do,” St Rock says, “is collect information and learn predictably about passenger service needs, based on the objects that that we can detect.”
As one set of benefits, the optical sensor — a commercial camera observing the seat — can detect issues outside the parameters of ‘normal’ that require repair or some other attention. Perhaps the tray table droops at an angle, or the inflight entertainment screen’s brightness isn’t up to standard, or there is an unpleasant stain on the seat cushion.
But even beyond that, it can be used as a service trigger. Is that cappuccino cup empty? An alert might go to a crewmember to bring another. Is the passenger stirring after several hours of what the system recognises as rest? In that case, the alert might say to bring a bottle of water and see whether the passenger would like a snack or a drink.
Collins says that the data will remain at-seat, being processed and anonymised before transmitting upwards — critical for data volumes and, the company hopes, allaying privacy fears.
But there’s a real question — and one that Collins is correct to raise at AIX —about the extent to whether passengers will see and accept this as preternatural service assistant versus a kind of nannying “snitch cam”, monitoring their every move to, say, enforce alcohol restrictions and ensure that no service items happen to slip into a collector’s pocket. Indeed, could AI be the end of the long-held tradition of #PinchablePaxEx, spotting and snitching on every filched spoon?
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Featured image credited to Collins Aerospace