APEX: Airbus begins flight testing IoT tech

Airbus has begun inflight testing of its IoT connected cabin technologies. Using an Airbus A350-900, the manufacturer will be road (or sky) testing its Airspace Connected Experience in real world settings. Having scooped a Crystal Cabin Award for the concept earlier in the week at APEX, the European manufacturer is ready to take things to the next level.

Airspace Connected Experience
The Airspace Connected Experience is taking to the skies. Photo: Airbus

The Airbus Flight Lab

The Fight Lab has been built on one of the original Airbus A350-900 test aircraft. MSN002 was one of the first A350-900s off the production line, and was used in certification testing by the manufacturer. As such, it has remained the property of Airbus, and is now going to be real world testing out the IoT platform in practice.

A350 XWB in flight
The Flight Lab is an A350-900, MSN002. Photo: Airbus

Installed on the A350 are a selection of IoT features and functions. These include a prototype of an intelligent passenger seat, known as the iSeat by Recaro, a connected galley from gategroup and a wireless cabin management system.

However, the most important element being tested is Airbus’ own software ‘backbone’. The way in which third party product can connect into and interact with this structure is what will make the system fly in the long run.

What could the connected cabin be like?

The connected cabin promises benefits to airlines, crew and passengers alike. While the development of technologies for an IoT cabin is ongoing, Airbus has provided some examples of the sorts of things we can expect.

For airlines, ancillary revenue generation will become easier and more targeted, with retail and advertising capable of being personalized to individual passengers. For example, if the system knows what the passenger ordered from buy on board last time they flew, or which movies they watched, it could intelligently suggest products and services that would appeal to that customer.

Airspace cabin
Technology could include bookable bin space and pre ordered meals. Photo: Airbus

Airlines can also benefit from improved knowledge and data gathering. For example, Airbus is testing out cameras near the lavatories, to monitor waiting times. It goes further too, with the potential for things like predictive maintenance and waste management strategies.

For the crew themselves, a connected cabin could make for a much better working environment. Mobile smart devices would be capable of giving crew access to all onboard components and tools from anywhere in the cabin. From knowing how close to capacity an overhead bin is to seeing at a glance when passengers seat belts are fastened, the potential for time-saving applications is huge.

Passengers too will be able to benefit from the tech. Things like being able to choose between pasta and chicken from the comfort of their own home, and then have it delivered to their own seat. Or prebooking bin space to ensure bags stay nearby. Seats too could be personalized, with preset seat positions for optimal comfort.

Airbus Connected Experience infographic
The Airbus Connected Experience will provide greater personalisation and better data collection at every customer touch point. Photo: Airbus

When will we see this?

While the A350-900 Flight Lab is all kitted out right now, clearly there’s still some work to be done before it starts making its way to regular passenger flights. Airbus has said that it hopes to roll out this technology on A321s in 2021 and on the A350 series by 2023.

The key element to this is that Airbus has built the Airspace Connected Experience on an open source software platform. This means it’s open for airlines, app developers and innovators to create their own technologies that work alongside it. The IoT backbone provided by Airbus is the crucial link in what could be a much smarter future for air travel.

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