Development could usher in single-touchscreen cockpits

Future cockpits could use a single interactive touchscreen instead of multiple displays thanks to technology under development by Thales.

The French-owned aerospace systems company is leading an EU-funded project to create a display covering the entire control panel that pilots can rearrange to show the information they need when and where they want it.

The ODICIS (One Display for a Cockpit Interactive Solution) uses LED lighting inside the device to project images outward onto the screen, which can be made into any shape or size for different aircraft.

Thales’ head of innovative cockpit design, Denis Bonnet, told The Engineer that the flight crew would always be able to do things that a computer couldn’t and that it was important to provide information in the way that users wanted.

‘This cockpit is used by people that use, in their everyday lives, iPhones, iPads and other gadgets,’ he said. ‘You are familiar with the way you interact with an iPhone and you would expect your professional environment to interact in the same way.’

The new design also helps make the display less likely to fail as it uses multiple projectors, so if one goes down the others can keep working. Future models may use several types of projector to improve the device’s fail resistance further.

Thales has created a working prototype and estimates that the screen could be made available for civilian and military vehicles in the next four to six years, following testing to ensure it is robust enough to meet certification requirements.

Flight-deck design has been trending towards fewer, larger screens over the last few decades as it made it easier to display information in a way that is easy to understand.

Using projection allowed the designers to create a single seamless display, said Herbert de Smet of the Imec Centre for Microsystems Technology in Belgium, one of Thales’ partners on the project.

‘If you were to make one large display with classic LCD technology it would be very expensive and fragile, and to have a custom shape is really impossible — you would have to stick to a rectangular shape.’

The challenge was in finding a way of projecting from within the device over a distance of just 15cm from the light source to the screen, he added, but was unable to explain how this was achieved due to a confidentiality agreement.