Astronics reveals multiple launches and future visions


Inflight experience electronics innovator, Astronics, has revealed plans to introduce several new connectivity and power technologies at APEX Expo this September. The technologies will include in-seat power, connectivity and data systems aimed at helping airlines and airframe manufacturers improve the passenger flight experience while also improving their cost and operational efficiencies.

Cabin wi-fi innovation

A compact but powerful launch will be Astronics’ Edge Cabin Network Platform to support IFE customers with a smarter, scalable hardware solution that can be installed in any aircraft type. The system offers elimination of the head end server to save weight and complexity; a requirement for fewer boxes, meaning faster installation times; a decentralised architecture to provide scalability plus greater security; small, lighter packaging with full cabin networking functionality; and wireless content and SSD format loading options.

“We’re taking inflight connectivity hardware to ‘the edge’ of innovation with this new IFE platform introduction,” said Michael C. Kuehn, president of Astronics CSC. “Our new Edge Cabin Network Platform employs the power of a distributed computing system architecture to eliminate weighty servers while improving the passenger wi-fi experience. With this new strategy of a distributed architecture, IFE providers can provide a scalable, secure system, offering airlines the option to deploy only as many as they may need to create the optimal, cost- and performance-effective configuration.”

Fast and simple in-seat power retrofits

In order to make future retrofits of in-seat power easier, Astronics is introducing its EmPower Xpress product, an on-seat USB outlet housing solution for its EmPower in-seat power product line.

Astronics’ dual USB Type-A and USB Type-C outlet unit configuration

According to Astronics, EmPower Xpress can be easily adjusted to the seat rail, either forward or rear-mounted. Attaching to the seat without affecting the seat structure makes for swift installation times, without the need for seat service bulletins (recertifying seats). Key features include the option to fit either a dual USB or single USB outlet unit and a maximum weight of 0.650 lbs (0.594 lbs nominal).


Extending the range of aircraft data

The latest version of the webFB Aircraft Interface Device (AID) will also be on show, which includes an extended wi-fi range to wirelessly connect to cabin IFEC systems, enabling real-time data collection and transfer to the ground. This compact and easy to install unit acts as a server and a router to provide a cost-effective AID solution without the need for aircraft modifications.

By connecting the webFB AID to the cabin IFEC system, airlines can benefit from automated post-flight data transfer to eliminate costly and latent manual data collection; real-time transmission of aircraft data to enable in-flight reporting of monitored conditions; and on-board document storage to provide ready backups of Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) content.

“Our new webFB extended range models go beyond traditional EFB connectivity to now expand into IFEC data connectivity, which will help airlines realise operational savings through the use of real-time aircraft data,” said Jon Neal, president of Astronics Ballard Technology.

Sierra Portable IFE

Astronics will also launch its third-generation Sierra Portable IFE, a carry-on IFE solution that provides full-featured inflight entertainment on all types of aircraft without the need for any installation.

In addition to its content streaming capabilities, Sierra also offers an automated onboard cellular radio, support for moving map applications, and a dedicated third wi-fi radio that enables networking of multiple units.

The updated Sierra unit

Key features include a 12-hour battery life with dual hot-swappable batteries; PA pause functionality; up to 2TB of storage with front removable SSD; an Enterprise class 802.11ac, Wave 2 access point; autonomous cell modem operation; and an aircraft power option.

Smart sensing

At the core of Astronics’ Smart Aircraft System is Internet of Things (IoT) network technology, which autonomously collects and aggregates data from a range of sensors installed in the aircraft cabin. The system, which will be demonstrated by Astronics throughout APEX Expo, collects nearly any type of sensor data and wirelessly transmits this data to locations and applications where the crew can improve airline operational efficiency. For example, the system can sense seat occupancy and position, depletion of consumables like paper towels, and the status of safety equipment such as flashlights and lifejackets.

A primary application of this technology, the Intelligent Bin Solution, will be on display. This system is able to detect and report real-time information about the status of overhead bins such as the available capacity, which speeds up aircraft boarding processes and reduces passenger stress. In addition, the system reports the temperature, humidity, pressure, and air quality within the bin, which helps detect outgassing events such as those that precede a lithium-ion battery fire. This early warning can increase safety and avoid costly aircraft diversions.

The Intelligent Bin Solution being demonstrated at a previous event

“Our new Smart Aircraft System integrates hundreds of advanced sensors with our webCS wireless communication server to collect and present meaningful data to crew members on their portable electronic devices,” explained Jon Neal, president of Astronics Ballard Technology. “There are a multitude of uses for this new system, which brings new data and insights into the hands of the crew to increase efficiency, improve safety, and lower operating costs.”

The Intelligent Bin Solution is an APEX/IFSA Award Finalist, and is expected to start airline trials later this year.

Future technology explorations

The Astronics team will also be discussing innovative technology, with topics including Li-Fi arena plus feature alternate gesture control technology applications for use on aircraft.

“We’re planning to show gig speed Li-Fi capabilities for potential cabin Li-Fi applications,” explained Mark Schwartz, VP of PDT, an Astronics company. “We’ll also feature alternate gesture control, which uses electric currents from your brain to move objects. And finally, we’ll show some Li-Fi gate data link applications, and how it can populate the CWAP with content according to your seat number.”

Tech talks

Throughout the event, Astronics will also feature Tech Talks at the booth. Topics include:

  1. What’s next for the Internet of Flight
  2. Scalable concepts for integrating portable IFE
  3. Considerations when selecting a wireless charging solution for commercial aviation applications
  4. Securing, deploying and managing next-generation aircraft interface devices
  5. Improving cabin efficiencies using smart aircraft sensor data

Stop by Astronics booth 1429 to see the talk schedule and to try out the latest innovations.


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About Author


Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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