Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Touch Screens in Cockpits Would Improve Airliner Safety, Research Shows: Four-year study focused on helping reduce pilot workload, devising eye-tracking technology to identify pilot mistakes

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor 
Sept. 19, 2017 4:49 p.m. ET

Cockpits featuring touch-screen controls, historically considered unreliable in severe turbulence, offer some of the most promising safety enhancements for future airliners, according to new European research.

The findings, portions of which are to be made public Wednesday at an international avionics conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., are the culmination of a four-year study intended to help reduce pilot workload and devise eye-tracking technology to identify pilot mistakes. Dutch government researchers, engineers from French equipment maker Thales SA and a host of other international experts also are developing cutting-edge systems able to alert pilots if they become distracted, sleepy or stray from normal procedures.

Without such advances, “the crew is no longer able to manage all the information” today’s jetliners spew out, Eric Parelon, a senior Thales manager, told an international safety conference in Brussels earlier this year. To further improve safety and enhance pilot decision making, he said, various touch-screen variants are essential because “information has to be provided in a completely different way” than in the past.

Pilots from more than 60 carriers participated in extensive simulator sessions run by the Netherlands Aerospace Centre depicting airborne emergencies, unexpected changes in runway assignments and other stressful situations. Sometimes with only one or two swipes of cockpit displays, pilots were able to respond—even setting up complex instrument approaches for entirely new destinations—while maintaining situational awareness and reducing workload, according to Wilfred Rouwhorst, a senior Dutch researcher.

In addition to speed and altitude during descent, the application automatically factors in runway and weather conditions.

As an additional safeguard, the Dutch organization emphasizes that “both pilots can also supervise each via their own screen” to ensure the autopilot is correctly engaged.

Under the auspices of the European Union, teams of technical experts also investigated technologies intended to track where an aviator’s eyes are focused, or even analyze facial expressions, to determine if flight crews are complying with mandatory flight plans and safety rules. In extreme cases, an emergency mode can take over control from crews unable to swiftly react for some reason, including incapacitation.

Detailed reports about the overall results aren’t yet public, and innovative touch-screen designs and software aimed at enhancing routine operations aren’t expected to be standard on airline flight decks for at least a decade.

But the simulation sessions, Mr. Rouwhorst said in an interview, showed “pilots really would love to have (them) onboard today, especially the younger generation” most comfortable with touch screens on cellphones, other personal electronic devices and increasingly, embedded in car dashboards.

Hundreds of millions of airline passengers already use touch-screen commands for cabin entertainment systems. Many military pilots rely extensively on the same type of cockpit interfaces, while makers of commercial and business aircraft are expanding uses steadily.

Last year, Boeing Co. and avionics supplier Rockwell Collins Inc. announced that the Chicago plane maker’s next-generation 777 model would be the first passenger jet to include touch screens on flight-control displays. Boeing said that after testing prototypes in simulators and actual aircraft, the user-friendly systems performed “as well as or better than current devices” for pilot interactions with displays.

Typically, airliners still use various rotary knobs, touchpads, or buttons to control functions on display screens or flight-management computers.

Rockwell officials have said that to prevent inadvertent commands, they designed the touch screens to require firm pressure. There is a bezel, or lip protruding from the frame, to help pilots brace their hands during vibration or airborne turbulence, and two aviators can manipulate the screens at the same time.

European research further supports the argument that by leveraging the latest ergonomic designs, pilots are now better able to steady their fingers to operate touch screens despite rough air. Manufacturers usually provide rollerballs as a fallback.

In Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft, electronic flight bags used by pilots have touch screens. Before transitioning the technology to main cockpit displays, Boeing and Rockwell also had to work on strict anti-reflectivity standards to ensure pilots can read the displays under various lighting conditions.

Honeywell International Inc., which for many years opposed touch-screen technology as risky in severe weather, now has provided them for some business jets and anticipates rapid spread through airlines world-wide. Longer term, Thales, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins are all working on voice-recognition features to interact with cockpit systems.

Mr. Rouwhorst, however, acknowledged that “wear and tear and maintenance issues” stemming from touch screens still need to be addressed.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com


Anonymous said...

Today my new Samsung Galaxy S8 's touch screen suddenly became unresponsive. No response to touch, swipe, etc. Finally had to do the "emergency" maneuver, whereby you hold both the volume and on/off switch simultaneously for 10 seconds to force a reboot.

Imagine this from 50,000 feet, or worse, on final approach to the airport!

Not sure I want only touch screen controls-- a few "back up" buttons and switches might be wise.

Klas said...

I agree with what Anonymous said!
Physical buttons and knobs may be more expensive to manufacture, but one shouldn' t digitalize things that don't need to be digitalized as this will involve many new risks (traditional knobs and buttons are reliable and very rarely become unresponsive as in the Samsung Galaxy example) and give so much more support through their feel and haptic feedback that a flat touchscreen just cannot provide.

Anonymous said...

Ever try to change radio stations on bumpy road?
Just how would making touch screens be safer?
I think they need to severely test this theory out, instead of promoting a system for the sake of stock options.

Anonymous said...

" Alexa! Climb to flight level 3 5 0. "

"Sure, playing 'Fight Club' on your Amazon Prime movies account".