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Transportation Patents

Airbus Patents Windowless Cockpit That Would Increase Pilots' Field of View 468

Zothecula writes Imagine showing up at the airport to catch your flight, looking at your plane, and noticing that instead of windows, the cockpit is now a smooth cone of aluminum. It may seem like the worst case of quality control in history, but Airbus argues that this could be the airliner of the future. In a new US patent application, the EU aircraft consortium outlines a new cockpit design that replaces the traditional cockpit with one that uses 3D view screens instead of conventional windows.
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Airbus Patents Windowless Cockpit That Would Increase Pilots' Field of View

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  • Failsafe? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:52PM (#47400629)

    Are there at least windows behind the screens so that they can be moved out of the way in the event of a problem?

    • No, that would wreck the entire engineering of getting rid of the windows in the first place.
      Besides, there are display systems with a reliability that is more than adequate, and it's probably redundant in some fashion just to be sure.

      Hey, maybe they have a couple of Oculus Rifts stored in the glove compartment just in case the big screen goes wonky, or they want to play a quick game of Battlefield before leaving international airspace. :p
      • Re:Failsafe? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @02:58PM (#47401845) Journal
        There are no display systems more reliable than a plate of glass.
      • Re:Failsafe? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @06:27PM (#47403489) Journal

        No, that would wreck the entire engineering of getting rid of the windows in the first place.

        In principle, there could be 'emergency' windows that were smaller or more awkwardly placed (perhaps even requiring the use of a periscope or physical light pipe) that could nevertheless still be used to land a plane in the event of a complete failure of the electronic display system. From an engineering standpoint, even a switch from giant wrap-around windows to small portholes is still going to provide some improvement in strength and weight.

        That said, it's worth noting two things. First, modern aircraft are so heavily electronics-dependent (and fly-by-wire driven) that in the event of a catastrophic failure of onboard electronics, the loss of virtual windows may not actually be the biggest problem on your plate. Second, modern aircraft are often rated for landing completely blind (at suitably equipped airports); even if you lose the view from the entire front 'window', a landing on instruments is still a reasonable option.

    • Failsafe? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Njovich ( 553857 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:19PM (#47400963)

      Did you ever land in fog? Noticed that in commercial airports, they usually don't bother with removing the fog?

      Planes land with zero visibility all the time.

    • why not just reduce the window area to half it's current size. If the savings is really significant then that would be significant too. Then compensate with the video system. the remaining window would be the failsafe.

    • Nobody complains about all those people jammed into a metal tube with no windows powered by a nuclear reactor and dumped into the ocean(s)...

      And no... Periscope only works for the last (first) 20 meters or so. They are buggering about on instruments and maps alone.
      And did I mention nuclear missiles? Yeah... they jam those in there with the people.

  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:53PM (#47400631) Journal

    What then?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:58PM (#47400711)

      They fly via instrument flight rules.

    • by pkinetics ( 549289 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:01PM (#47400751)
    • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:02PM (#47400765)

      Pilots routinely fly on instruments these days anyway, this is particularly true and night and in bad weather where visibility is minimal to non-existent. Think of landing a plane in thick fog, an operation that is common these days. The scary thing would be loss of instruments and electronic control systems. That would require pretty much total failure of the electrical and hydraulic systems and the backup systems. Something I don't believe has happened in a commercial airliner in more than 20 years.

      Though I agree with you, there should be windows for emergencies if they lose everything else and only have windows it's not going to be easy to land the plane because they'll have lost all instrumentation and hydraulic assist. That might be one of those times you just bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rubycodez ( 864176 )

        your thinking is incorrect, multiple non-dependent systems exist with backup systems. The windows in the cockpit happen to be one of those

      • Assuming CATIIIc zero visibility operations will be approved, a lack of windows should be fine for normal taxi and flight. The pilots are already relying on operating entirely by instruments.

        That said, there could be emergencies where real outside visibility would be nice - water ditching, etc. Those may be rare enough though that it isn't a significant extra risk.

        Will sure may flying airliners even less interesting than it is now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's always funny to read the knee-jerk anti-technology attitude on slashdot.

      For what it's worth I'll try to educate you: RIght now modern airplanes are almost entirely flown using computers, with no physical connection between the controls and the actual bits that do the flying. If ANY of those highly complex computerized systems (in addition to their multiple backup systems) fail completely, you're fucked regardless of how well you can see out the windows. Removing physical windows in favour of "virtual

      • Removing physical windows in favour of "virtual" ones is actually a great idea for all the reasons already stated and if you cannot see this, perhaps you should spend less time on a site for "nerds" and more time on a site for luddites.

        Well said.

        While I would have reservations about flying on the plane, if they actually get it into production, all the worries stated in posts above have been worked out as well as can be. Planes that do have windows are crashing all the time. Being able to see through holes in the fuselage didn't save them.

      • Is there really no room for any other sort of reaction, in between blind faith and knee-jerk opposition?

        From time to time, technology fails. This is a simple fact of life, and normally, the people making the technology will be the first to tell you this (the people selling the technology, not so much, which is a source of tension between the two). It doesn't take a Luddite to see that one needs to have failsafes in place. This is, in fact, what the word "failsafe" means.

    • What then?

      Alt+F4 - it always closes the window and gets it out of the way.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:11PM (#47400887) Homepage Journal

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J... [wikipedia.org]

      "In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly and land an airplane using instruments alone, without a view outside the cockpit. Having returned to Mitchel Field that September, he assisted in the development of fog flying equipment. He helped develop, and was then the first to test, the now universally used artificial horizon and directional gyroscope. He attracted wide newspaper attention with this feat of "blind" flying and later received the Harmon Trophy for conducting the experiments. These accomplishments made all-weather airline operations practical."

      And yes it was the Jimmy Doolittle. If you do not know about him you should read up on him.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      Believe it or not, most pilots are trained to perform instrument-only landings. I believe any commercial airliner (and most military) even has a system on-board specifically designed to facilitate this [wikipedia.org].

      I've personally see even amateur pilots take off, fly around and successfully land a simulator that did not have a working visual system, relying on instruments alone. Not something you'd like them doing regularly with actual lives at stake, I'll grant you. However, it is trained for. In event of emergency,

  • by starworks5 ( 139327 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:54PM (#47400651) Homepage

    has never been more literally applied

  • Prior art (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:54PM (#47400653)
    The bridge of the Enterprise.
    • I thought of that, too. The use of video screens for aircraft like the Concorde has been discussed for years. Unless there are specifics in their patent that are new and ingenious, I would think that they'd have a hard time with the patent in the courts.

  • Been there ... done MORE than that :) http://www.jpbellphotography.c... [jpbellphotography.com]
  • Sure. Sounds like a great way to add a lot of unnecessary complexity to make the system more unreliable. Is the extended view really worth this?
    • Well, to be fair (and since nearly everybody else is piling onto the obvious drawbacks), this should actually remove some complexity and a significant point of failure. Windows, their joints with the fuselage material, and the resulting corners are a major engineering headache.

      Also, it avoids the whole "lasers into the cockpit windows" issue. </snark>

    • Lets promote this as a way to avoid the problems of broken windshields from bird strikes. And lets completely ignore that a bird could still strike the camera and completely block the view rather than just partially compromising it.
      • Yeah, but there could be quite a difference between breaking the windshield and breaking one or two of the potentially dozens of cameras that could be distributed around the airframe. It's a lot easier to design in redundant cameras than redundant cockpits.

    • Yes, it's very worth it, it lets you move the cockpit so it doesn't interfere with aerodynamics. It will most likely result in an improved view (they can put cameras on the bottom so they can actually see crew on the tarmac when taxing). And removing the windows will help aerodynamics and save fuel. Considering the plane is already fly by wire, it's not a significant complexity addition.

      In addition I wonder how this patent is even valid, the Virginia class submarine already does this, they have a photonics [wikipedia.org]

  • >> looking at your plane

    I'm sure the TSA already has plans to shut that down too.

    We should just be happy that they're still considering leaving pilots in the planes at this point - the future might just be flying as cargo in really big (windowless) UAVs.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:01PM (#47400747) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, didn't the crash at San Fran with the 777 who relied too much on technology that failed teach ANYBODY ANYTHING? When the tech stops working, it's up to the pilot to actually FLY and LAND the plane.

    How many people have to die to teach that you can't rely 100% on technology that can and will fail while the plane is still airborne?

    I don't say this often, but Oy-veh-gevalt!

    • 777 failed because the pilots ignored the warnings offered by the electronic systems, not because the electronic systems failed. The plane warned them a dozen times they were too low and they ignored it. This is just like the transatlantic flight that went down where the pilots listened to 77 warnings that they were in stall and did nothing to prevent it apparently because they thought they knew better than the electronic systems.

      • Which tells me that something is wrong with the warning systems if Pilots are ignoring them. Pilots aren't idiots, but a warning system that's too sensitive is useless. If the check-engine light on your car comes on all the time because your gas cap isn't tight enough, do you start ignoring it? Then when it comes on for a legitimate reason, you're probbably going to still ignore it.

        I don't know what's going on here, but the fact that two different pilots ignored warning systems in the same plane that led

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Modern airliners use FBW the pilot does not move the control surfaces he moves a joystick and a computer decides what to do.
      Even the example you gave was pilots ignoring the electronics systems and not the electronics systems failing.

    • Rather fewer than the number that will die if you keep letting half evolved monkeys mess with the controls.

  • How would this effect the pilots depth perception? If it did, would it even matter?
  • "tower, ByNight 666, help, we're flying blind."

    "666, only until you're out of fuel, over."

  • At least now it will be easier for the planes to be flown into buildings without the pilots knowledge and no terrorists needed, by projecting a false camera view.

    #911InsideJob #blessed #lolcats

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      Funny.... But I actually complained about that when they did it on 24 with the "magic ATC hacking box". Pilots aren't robots, if they see they're about to collide, they'll avoid it. Now there's another mechanism for the 3vil h4xx0rz to use.

      But seriously. What happens when the video crashes (I guess the plane will, too), or gets hacked (and don't give me any bullshit about "airgapped")?

  • For what does a computer need a virtual Cockpit? Pilots need a cockpit, computers don't. And I guess in 5 -10 years there is no pilot needed anymore
  • It's a good idea as long as everything's working perfectly, but the failure mode in the event of avionics problems makes it unacceptable.

  • by Stuntmonkey ( 557875 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:31PM (#47401097)

    Autonomous cars, and now this. I have to say I'm not so eager to entrust my life to complex software. Working in software I've seen countless times that complex systems show behaviors the designers didn't intend. At a minimum I'd want to know what dead-simple failsafe mechanisms have been engineered in to recognize and handle unknown states.

    • Software already flies your airplane for 95% or more of your journey.

      • I have no problem with that, so long as there is a big red "disengage" button that allows a human pilot to assume control. What bothers me is entrusting our lives to software when such an override may be impractical, such as when your car is careening down the highway at 65 mph and you happen to be sleeping or reading a book.
  • by garry_g ( 106621 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:32PM (#47401107)

    After all, Windows is so old school ...

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:38PM (#47401169) Journal
    I'm not even a pilot, but I think I understand the mindset of pilots well enough, having known a few: In the event of mechanical (or system) failure(s), any pilot is at least going to want to be able to peer out a window with his own two eyes to see what's going on. It's a backup system that is hard to cause failure in: If the windshield is shattered to the point where you can't see out of it, then you've got worse problems than not being able to see! This sounds like something some non-pilot (or worse, marketing monkey or bean-counter) came up with. Or maybe, just maybe, they're patenting it for the sole purpose of preventing anyone from doing anything this dangerous and stupid with airplane design?

    Could we have some actual licensed experienced pilots please join this conversation? I'd like to know what you think about this, please.
  • strong objections (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:48PM (#47401267) Homepage

    What if the electricity fails? What if the camera breaks? What if this, what if that? People had the same kind of very strong objections to fly-by-wire systems, and we've had planes for decades with no physical links between the controls in the cockpit and the control surfaces that move the plane. The number of accidents caused by failure of a fly-by-wire system? None. There are so many redundancies in these systems, it makes it very unlikely to fail.

    Next... seeing outside isn't particularly important. Pilots don't really need to look out the window on these planes for flying. Especially when the plane is in fog or clouds, looking out the window can be actually confusing and disorienting and it's much safer to to look a the instruments. When coming in for a landing, the runway has a guidance system that guides the plane right onto the runway (ILS).

    Plus, you can actually get a much better view of the outside using cameras and screens.

    This being said, this is not an invention and it's not patent-worthy. As others mentioned, NCC-1701 had a viewscreen instead of a window... almost half a century ago.

  • Missing the point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @03:12PM (#47401939) Homepage

    I'm actually less worried about the view-screen failing than most are; given how robust the systems on these planes are, it is unlikely that is going to be a significant problem. If it gets to the point where the viewscreen itself no longer works, the pilots probably will probably have other much more important problems to deal with, like catastrophic hull damage or engine failure (having said that, I'm all for the addition of a periscope or small viewport that can be used in emergencies).

    What does concern me is the image that is going to be projected onto these screens. It is going to be a mixed feed of camera images and sensors into one panoramic display. This raises flags for two reasons. First, cameras have fixed viewing angles, and windows do not. A pilot can lean a bit to the side while looking out a window to see just slightly more to the left or right; he won't be able to do so with a fixed TV image. Secondly, having worked with how computers merge panoramic images, I wonder how much lag there will be between the time the camera SEES its image and the time it actually is displayed on the screen; even a tenth of a second delay could be dangerous. I also wonder what information will be culled because the programs cannot make a seamless match between the different camera images otherwise. Programs that merge images can make some stupid assumptions sometimes and a detail at the border between two or more images is sometimes lost due to the algorithm.

    A better initial use for this technology than completely replacing the cockpit windows, I think, would be to replace the PASSENGER windows. Those are far less critical to the plane. Giving each PASSENGER a small OLED screen in place of a window would greatly increase structural integrity and decrease fuel use while also allowing the technology to better mature before replacing the much more important viewports in the cockpit.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @04:13PM (#47402439)
    As someone who has worked on the ramp of a major international airport, I have concerns about how this would affect ground operations. On the ramp there is a lot of visual communication between the pilots and the gate crews and others on the ramp. Major airports have bag tugs, cars, aircraft service trucks, buses, and even commercial delivery trucks driving around on the ramp, and where the vehicle traffic intersects taxiways, being able to actually see the pilot in the cockpit is very useful so that you know that they can see you. It is not uncommon for a pilot to wave traffic across to indicate they are not ready to taxi yet (usually this is signaled by the lights on the front landing ger being on, but to due a bright day or a bad angle they can often be hard to see). While there are plenty of aids for flying that reduce the need for a pilot to have visibility, when they are on the ground operating alongside hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people, sight and visual communication play very important roles.
  • by Natales ( 182136 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @04:38PM (#47402651)
    I was on a business trip once going from Lima, Peru, to Arica in Chile on a 727 when the pilot announced that the navigation system in the plane was basically dead. Instead of freaking out, he lowered the altitude and he visually followed the Iquitos river and other landmarks, piloting the plane the old fashion way, taking us to the destination safely. In a windowless cockpit that would have been a non-starter. I for one, want to keep an "analog backup" as an option. Thank you.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan