“Skymarks may help [the passenger] figure out where they want to go for their next vacation,” says Sizelove.
He says Panasonic has agreements with “several partners” on the idea, which would link with existing social media sites and a new site specific to Panasonic. “We're looking at trying to figure out how bring this forward as a corporation,” he says. For another IFC project, the team of seven engineers at Panasonic's IFE facilities is contemplating a system that will allow passengers to synchronize watching a movie or video with people on the ground, complete with a low-bandwidth voice or text link. As with Thales, the Panasonic IFE group works in cooperation with related technology groups in other segments of those two large companies.
At Thales, Bleacher and his team of five engineers and three interns are in a laboratory experimenting with concepts that will keep up with, or perhaps leapfrog, the consumer market in the areas of command- and-control and immersion technologies.
“One of the biggest things coming from [the consumer market] is gesture control, similar to the Xbox Kinect, but with finger and hand control,” says Bleacher. “We have it operating in a business-class demonstration seat, and have a couple of bids from customers.”
Bleacher says premium seating is an ideal starting place for the technology as passengers, unlike in the economy cabin, are too far from the screen to make touch-screen control possible. “With gesture, your hand and vision of image is always in the same plane; you don't have to look down at the controller,” he says.
Along with gesture, Thales is developing an eye-tracking capability that will allow the passengers to visually select an item to be controlled, followed by voice control to make the selection. The company is also testing a “magic wand” accelerometer-based pointer for pointing and clicking items on the screen.
Thales's voice-recognition technology, which came from the company's automotive sector, will use a “microphone beam-forming” process directed in the vicinity of the passenger's mouth, and noise-cancellation and noise-reduction algorithms to strip out ambient cabin noise. “It's in the preliminary stages, but we think we can do it,” says Bleacher.
Sizelove says Panasonic is trying to figure out “how to engage a person naturally in the aircraft cabin” in terms of command and control. Early indications are that a combination of wireless controllers, gesture and eye-tracking may be the best fit, particularly in the confined space of an aircraft cabin, where passengers can “take the time to learn and interact,” says Sizelove.
Where the eyes will be looking when tracked is open to creativity. Sizelove says a projector could shoot an image on a variety of surfaces, including a tray table and seat arm, where a passenger would interact with the image via eye or facial-tracking and gestures. In an earlier demonstration, passengers could look up at a ceiling vent and control its flow by gesturing with a circular hand motion to open or close the vent.
Main components for such a system would be an infrared sensor for eye- tracking and a web camera to catch the reflection and correlate where the eyes are focused. A flaw with eye-tracking is that it does not work for people wearing glasses, says Sizelove, an issue that might be solvable with facial feature-tracking, he says.