Program Cabin 4.0
Smart home for the cabin
The cabin's future lab
Have all passengers fastened their seat belts? All tables are folded up, all overhead compartments closed? Does the oven work properly? These procedures are daily business for the cabin crew and necessary routine on every flight – but impersonal and complex.
Program Cabin 4.0
The small black box
The "main actor" in the vision of the "Cabin 4.0" research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWI) will initially appear inconspicuous. It will be small and black hidden behind ceiling or wall coverings. But we are particularly proud of him – after all, we thought of him in cooperation with the entire Lufthansa Group. A single access point, which receives, bundles and processes cabin data, will make the work of mechanics, flight attendants or caterers much easier. The small box forms the central communication point in the cabin with which all devices – from the oven in the galley to the luggage rack and the reading lamp – are connected. This is our vision of data architecture in the cabin.
Use Case – Component Repair
The talking oven
It is not new that devices display errors or send error messages. But where these error messages arrive and what then has to happen until the problem is solved as soon as possible – there is still a lot of potential! For example: If an oven in the galley fails, it saves valuable time if the oven reports the problem as immediately and precisely as possible. The maintenance crew, for example, who is connected to the cabin, knows even before the aircraft arrives that a certain heating coil in the oven is defective. The mechanic can bring the required spare part directly to the aircraft or replace the oven if necessary. For this to work, machine-to-machine communication is necessary. The components communicate via wireless sensor networks and transmit the data to a central communication point. The technology behind this is called Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications, or WAIC for short. Large aerospace companies and national research centres have been working for years to make wireless communication of devices on board aircraft the standard.
“Our goal is to orchestrate the Internet of Things on board and then draw the right conclusions from a vast amount of data. Intelligent and digitally networked systems, in open standard across all fleets – this saves airlines time and money.”
Sven Taubert, Corporate Innovation Manager and head of program Cabin 4.0
WAIC – Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications
The hub of the cabin
When new technologies are introduced, we are involved in the preparations – always with an eye on possible applications in our aviation industry. For the connected cabin of the future, everything revolves around WAIC, the future standard for Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications. Our vision is a WAIC standard as open source, a technology on which everything that is networked in the cabin and is not relevant to flight safety can be synchronized. These include seats, kitchen appliances and much more. We're at the forefront. While politics and industry are currently developing a standard that ensures flight safety through frequency spacing and shielding on board, we are the first company in the world to build a circuit board for a WAIC access point. This is how we turn a standard for flight safety into a new benchmark for flight comfort. The cabin becomes a "smart home".
WAIC – Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications
- Standardized radio frequency band for avionics components
- Closed network with own radio frequency 4.2 to 4.4 GHz
- No wiring required and therefore no additional weight
- More reliable monitoring of components through real-time information transmission
- Unlike WLAN, only one clearance is required at the airline's headquarters, not in every overflight country
- Connection of a large number of sensors possible, each of which only produces a small amount of data
Use Case – Optimum Working Processes in the Cabin
Especially during boarding and preparation for landing, the flight attendants are under a lot of strain: they have to check the correct closure of the overhead compartments, the sunshields, the seat belts of each individual passenger as well as the position of the seat manually in the shortest possible time. We think: If our modern cars signal that a trunk or door is not locked or a seat belt is not fastened correctly, then this must also work in the aircraft. Various subprojects of Cabin 4.0 are therefore concerned with intelligent automation of cabin checks. This saves cabin crew valuable time, which they can use for direct passenger service.
The mechanics also have to deal with many recurring processes in the technical support of the cabin, which could be carried out more quickly by intelligent automatic processes. We ask ourselves: Would it perhaps even be possible for the cabin to check itself and report defects automatically to the mechanics? All products in the cabin, such as seats, luggage compartments and lighting are already equipped with sensors. With the help of image recognition, optical defects could be detected and transferred to digital job cards. The knowledge gained from this remains in the form of a learning curve for any findings that may occur later. Optimal workflows using artificial intelligence and augmented reality are a realistic future for us. Why shouldn't the maintenance crew get a first virtual overview of the condition of the cabin with small drones in the run-up to a check? Our vision for the "Self-checking Cabin" starts at many different places.
Power for the smallest
When it comes to power supply, it gets really exciting. For a wireless cabin – the "Internet of Things in the Aircraft" – to function, even the smallest sensors, for example, must be supplied with electricity locally at their installation location, regardless of the aircraft's main power grid. How to do that? Batteries are not an option, because the personnel and material costs for the exchange are out of all proportion. No, the future solution for networked devices is energy harvesting. The name says it all: the smallest devices draw their energy directly from their surroundings. They are truly self-sufficient. There are promising technologies for this. One is the use of light, either via solar cells or – even more efficiently – via light emitting diodes. Other energy sources that already exist, but have not yet been used, are for example the vibrations that are always present in the aircraft. And even temperature differences in the environment are sufficient to use them to generate energy on the smallest scale.
Li-Fi – Light Fidelity
Perfectly brought to light
When the LED reading light becomes a beamer: The smart use of existing energy sources, i.e. the tapping of local energy surplus, is one way to satisfy the ever-increasing hunger for data in the cabin. Optical data transmission over short distances by light, the Li-Fi – short for Light Fidelity, is a promising approach. The LED lamp transmits data due to rapid changes in brightness that are imperceptible to the human eye. These light pulses are captured and converted into electrical signals. This makes it possible, for example, to stream films from the in-flight entertainment program directly to a receiver, e.g. the screen in the passenger seat.
Optical Data Transmission
- Light waves replace the usual radio waves
- Spectrum of light is 10,000 times broader than the spectrum of radio frequencies
- Data transmission via light
- Frequency range of light usable
- No interference, no discharge
- Visible and invisible light can generate and selectively transmit high data rates
- Reducing the workload of the WLAN network
Sven Taubert is burning for change and new approaches. At Lufthansa Technik, he is leading the Corporate Foresight and Market Intelligence team and started the Cabin 4.0 program. The combination of different user perspectives with the latest technology is exciting for the aerospace engineer. For an unbiased insight into the everyday life of a flight attendant, Sven himself took the practical test and brings this experience to the program.