With its all-around touchscreens, futuristic design, and dazzling interactive displays, it looks more like a flight deck from the Star Wars or Star Trek movies than anything in use today. Yet the ODICIS concept is a vision for a very real application: a cockpit that airplane or helicopter pilots might use within a decade from now.
© Fotolia, 2013
ODICIS, or One Display for a Cockpit Interactive Solution, is a unified multi-touch screen that replaces the floor-to-ceiling buttons, levers, and displays used in aircraft instrument panels today. It could revolutionise the way pilots fly, simplifying the many navigational commands and con-trols into a single interactive, tactile surround screen.
ODICIS is a European Union research project backed by €3.6 million in EU funding. It brings together nine partners from seven EU member states, including large companies (Thales Avionics, Alenia Aeronautica, Alitalia, and DIEHL Aerospace), research centres (IMEC) and universities (TEI Pi-raeus, University of Malta, and University of Denmark) providing a range of expertise and experience.
"We tried to define the cockpit of the future," says ODICIS Dissemination Manager Johanna Dominici, who is also an Innovation Engineer at Thales Avionics. "This system enables pilots to interact with the multi-touch display covering the full control panel. It means the cockpit becomes a single interactive, intuitive and configurable display area centred on the crew. And it can be adapted to all types of aircraft: planes and helicopters."
Loïc Bécouarn, ODICIS Project Coordinator and Innovation Engineer at Thales Avionics, says pilots today are overburdened with huge volumes of data, hampering their ability to concentrate on actually flying the aircraft. "With the constant increase in air traffic, the pilot has to monitor in-creasing amounts of information. So we made the cockpit more user-friendly to simplify the pilot's job and thus improve the safety of the flights," he says.
The ODICIS cockpit can be individually tailored to pilot needs at different points in their mission. Instruments, controls and keyboards as well as maps, performance charts and synthetic vision displays can be easily reconfigured, changed in size, hidden or brought up again in an intuitive manner akin to touchscreen-based tablets like the Apple iPad. The idea is to turn the entire instrument panel into a seamless, interactive surface.
Building a large, seamless and curved avionics display was demanding in both technical (optics and graphics) and operational (pilot-machine interface) terms. "The design of the projection system was a challenge in itself," Dominici says. "We achieved a wide angle, short throw projection system with very good contrast and viewing angles. We also designed a tactile system that works on a curved surface without degrading the optical characteristics of the display."
The mock-up was unveiled at the 2011 Paris Air Show, where it received plaudits from both pilots and potential customers. Two patents have already been granted, two more have been filed, while others are being planned. ODICIS has also just been awarded the 2011 'Janus de la Pro-spective' prize, a top French design award. Bécouarn hopes the concept itself will enter the market in 2020-25. By then, pilots could finally re-place their incomprehensible array of instruments with a flight deck that meets the interactive, intuitive demands of the age.