APEX: Astronics showcases future passenger IFEC technology

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Astronics' Mark Schwartz demonstrates Pure LiFi.
Astronics’ Mark Schwartz demonstrates pureLiFi.

The Astronics exhibit is displaying a wide range of IFEC technologies that will be making their way into the cabin over the next few years.

First up is its pureLiFi system that uses light instead of radio waves to connect your device to the aircraft’s IFEC system. “Get Connected” first wrote about this technology back in 2016 when we interviewed LiFi inventor Professor Harald Haas.

Astronics is commercialising the system, which uses the light in your cabin overhead unit to communicate with your laptop or PED. The advantages are enormous in that speeds can be 42Mbps right now, with laboratory testing seeing speeds up to 11Gbps.

Astronics’ Mark Schwartz said it can even be used with an infrared light source if the passenger wants their overhead light turned off.

In the demonstration a dongle is used to receive the LiFi signals, but in the future the technology could be built into tablets and mobile phones. A new IEEE standard is being introduced in 2020-21 that could kick start its widespread adoption.

Schwartz showed that even if you covered the sensor for a few seconds HD videos continue to play as it buffers the content.

Astronics' Jon Neal and the wireless PED charging pad.
Astronics’ Jon Neal and the wireless PED charging pad.

Astronics is also showing wireless charging for PEDS. The system is smart enough to know if a device has been placed on the charging mat, and switches off when nothing is present. This technology is currently being rolled out on the latest Apple iPhones and it could spell the end of bulky charging cables.

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The company may also help us see the end of carrying laptop chargers and adapters. With the standardisation of USB-C connectors Astronics has a power socket that will let you connect your 20V laptop direct to the seat with a simple cable.

Capable of delivering 60 Watts (20V at 3 Amps), the small compact sockets mean you only have to carry a lightweight USB-C cable instead of the bulky transformer.

Other innovations at Astronics include proximity sensors in overhead bins that can alert cabin crew of available storage space. They can also indicate if a passenger has forgotten to take their bag off the aircraft.

The sensors could help shorten loading times as passengers often struggle to find a bin with free space. Astronics also has a bin sensor that can detect volatile compounds, such as those produced from lithium ion battery outgassing. This could help detect faulty batteries that are at risk of catching fire.

Or what about wireless lavatory occupancy sensors that could alert crew to the potential of a passenger being taken ill? If the sensor detects someone has been in the lavatory for more than a specified length of time an alarm can be set off on a crew tablet. Another IOT sensor can detect if towels or other items are running low and need replacing.

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