Touchscreen and smart apps help pilots into the future

In the EU’s 7th Framework Programme ACROSS Project (‘Advanced Cockpit for Reduction Of StreSs and workload’), research was conducted during almost four years into ways of reducing the peak workload for pilots in the cockpit and the possible contribution of new technologies towards achieving this aim. The results of this project have recently been published. Among other things, the project has led to the development of new aircraft control applications on touch screens in the cockpit, which have been successfully tested in NLR’s GRACE flight simulator by 66 operators from different airlines. This marks an important step in the process of automation and virtualization of cockpit environments and flight operations. Besides NLR, the project team included representatives of 35 international parties, led by Thales Avionics (Toulouse, France). Upon completion of the project, NLR filed three patent applications with the European Patent Office.

NLR was involved in the ACROSS Project in several ways, for instance by contributing to the development of the Crew Monitoring System (CMS). Using technologies including eye-tracking and facial analysis, the CMS system determines the pilot’s level of situation awareness and whether he or she is actually following the agreed flight procedure. The CMS system issues an alert if the level of awareness appears to be reduced. NLR contributed to the development of this system by drawing on its expertise in the area of human factors and interactions between the pilot and the cockpit equipment.

Interactions between the pilot and the cockpit equipment

Interaction between the pilot and the cockpit equipment

As part of the AVIATE work package (see also: this video), NLR additionally worked on several cockpit features that can support the crew in situations involving high work pressure. Among other things, NLR developed a new Human-Machine Interface (HMI) for interactions with the autopilot system. This enables the human pilot to operate the autopilot and to enter parameters such as speed and altitude via the touch screen that is located right in front of each operator. Both pilots can also supervise each other via their own screen, and determine whether the autopilot function is actually and correctly activated in the system.

NLR also worked on a touch screen-controlled system that supports the pilot in case of last-minute runway changes or sudden changes of destination. The system provides a substantiated recommendation and if the pilot decides to follow its advice, it even makes sure that all the required landing systems are set correctly. The system not only takes into account the speed and altitude of the aircraft, but also the runway conditions and meteorological aspects such as wind speed and direction. The pilots who tested the system at NLR were very enthusiastic about the reduction of the workload produced during approach and landing, which are both crucial flight phases.

NLR also contributed to the development of the so-called Emergency Aircraft Control System (ECAS). This system automatically takes over control of the aircraft — if necessary even from a ground station — in case the entire cockpit crew suddenly loses consciousness or becomes otherwise incapacitated. Finally, NLR has developed new cockpit avionics architectures to facilitate the integration of all these new technologies into the existing avionic architectures.

Cockpit automation and virtualization is an irreversible process and touch screen technology has already been implemented in the aviation sector, for instance for control of the cabin systems. The latest applications for aircraft control and system control via touch screens in the cockpit will be subject to elaborate research and certification processes before they can be implemented. These innovations are expected to become a standard part of the cockpit infrastructure within approximately 10 years. This will reduce the peak workload for cockpit crews, thus contributing to making aviation even safer.

See also: this site.

The ACROSS project was executed as part of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme (FP7) and co-funded under the EC contract ACP2-GA-2012-314501. This message doesn’t necessarily reflects the views of the European Commission.