Honeywell is close to announcing customers for a new line of touchscreen-enabled avionics for the next-generation air transport and business aviation cockpits.
Although development work continues and the company has not yet announced specific touchscreen components or the platforms involved, a logical fit for the airline market would be a center console touchscreen display using resistive touch technology for Embraer’s E2 upgrade for the E-170/E-190 regional jet families. The refresh, which initially will enter service in 2018, includes a modernized version of the E-Jet’s Honeywell Primus Epic integrated avionics suite and a Honeywell next-generation flight management system mounted on the center console.
Andy Drexler, Honeywell’s director of marketing and product management for the cockpit systems group, would not comment on the Embraer cockpit, but tells Aviation Week there are several unannounced platforms that will use the company’s nascent touchscreen technology.
Honeywell’s offering follows a years-long internal research and development process, in part supported by an ongoing FAA contract to study the “usability” of various forms of touch technology.
The FAA asked Honeywell to determine whether certain combinations of display location and size, when combined with turbulence and touch technology, would cause pilots to make more input errors or take longer to perform tasks compared with traditional manual man-machine interfaces. “The [FAA] will take the results into consideration for regulatory guidelines, and we’ll use it to inform our product design decisions,” says Drexler of the study, which is scheduled to be delivered to the agency in July.
Honeywell tested the technology in its crew interface motion simulation lab in Phoenix, using pilots and a full-motion simulator fitted with a selection of 8-in. and 15-in. displays mounted at inboard, outboard, forward and overhead cockpit positions. The touch technologies evaluated included projected-capacitive (used on Apple’s iPad and other consumer devices) and digital-resistive, with digital-resistive emerging as the favored input technology.
Along with qualitative assessments of the pilots’ workload, researchers used electromyogram measurements of muscle activity to gauge the pros and cons of mounting locations and touch technologies. The researchers confirmed that the best fit for touchscreen displays on large flight decks for high-end business jets or air transport aircraft is on the center console, or pedestal. “From a pilot workload perspective, if you put touch there, that’s the best place for it. In a smaller flight deck, pilots are used to looking at bezel buttons and knobs on the forward displays, so touch makes more sense there.”
Although touch technologies like infrared and projective-capacitive are popular in the consumer electronics market, Drexler says the technologies remain too risky for commercial and business aviation in the near-term due to concerns over “inadvertent touch” or difficulties caused by cold hands or pilots wearing gloves. For that reason, he says Honeywell and touchscreen suppliers are moving toward digital resistive as the technology of choice for aviation.
Resistive requires pilots to physically push the screen, and limits advanced features, including pinch and zoom or swiping. “You’re going to have a pressure that has to be applied, more so than for a consumer device,” says Drexler.