Smarter Skies:  How AI Integration will Revolutionize the Aircraft Cabin Experience
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Smarter Skies: How AI Integration will Revolutionize the Aircraft Cabin Experience

Issue 21 - 2023
Smarter Skies:  How AI Integration will Revolutionize the Aircraft Cabin Experience

This article was originally published by Ed Dryden, President interiors at Collins Aerospace on LinkedIn, November 18, 2023 

Artificial intelligence (AI) appears to be everywhere – startups surface seemingly overnight and journalists can’t write about it enough as lawmakers scramble to enact regulatory measures. While AI is certainly experiencing a development boom, it may come as a surprise that the concept itself is not all that new.

In fact, English mathematician Alan Turing’s pioneering work on computing intelligence began in the 1940s. As far back as 1637, Rene Descartes mused about machines with decision-making power in his book Discourse on the Method, predating the invention of the first fully electric computer by some 200 years.

No, AI is not new, but it certainly feels like it is. Smart systems are increasing fixtures in our everyday lives – from digital assistants, autonomous vehicles, smart-enabled homes and much more.

 The intelligent opportunity

I lead Collins Aerospace’s interiors business where our focus is on helping our airline customers improve the travel experience for their customers.  We support this through clever design, innovative products and thoughtful integration to create cabins that deliver both function and comfort. But what really excites me is the emergence of commercially viable, advanced AI and how we can leverage this technology to take the inflight experience to a whole new level.

Combining our aircraft cabin expertise with intelligent, machine learning technology gives us a unique opportunity to bring holistic cabin solutions to life – think inflight service personalization, seamless technology integration, predictive maintenance and dynamic, bespoke branding.

In the 18+ months I’ve led Collins’ interiors business, I’ve witnessed firsthand the ingenuity and collaboration it takes to remain on the forefront of cabin optimization – not to mention the relentless pace at which everything continuously evolves. The work being done to make air travel functional, beautiful and comfortable is equal measures art, science and industry insight.

Leveraging intelligent capabilities opens the door to bring exciting possibilities to life for our customers, and ultimately, their passengers. We've come to expect these advancements across other aspects of our lives (in our homes and cars, for example) so why should the air travel experience be any different?

That's the question my team and I have put energy around, and the work is already being done.

Introducing the InteliSence™ system

We recently introduced our InteliSence™ system within a premium suite at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in June. A proprietary AI engine trains the InteliSence system in our labs to recognize specific service and maintenance cues. What’s deployed in-flight is not active AI, but rather a system equipped with a pre-determined set of rules that recognizes and computes based on what it’s been taught – facilitating everything from predictive service to increased operational efficiencies and streamlined on-board logistics.

And that’s the real beauty of intelligent systems. With a bit of ingenuity and thoughtfulness this technology can amplify existing products, systems and services to levels that far exceed what’s possible without it. 

Predictive and personalized

And make no mistake, the utilization of advanced AI will change the way we travel. Take the example of the InteliSence system in a premium suite – it's trained to detect the status of specific objects at a seat, programmed to understand potential service needs based on what it detects and then automatically send service triggers to on-board crews.

Need a refill? Chances are the crew is aware and already working on it.

Any number of service needs could be programmed into the system’s rule set, along with the ability to automatically optimize the seating environment based on occupant behavior – like reading a book, watching a movie or laying down to sleep.

And while predictive, personalized and automatic in-flight service might be wholly new, it's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the system’s capabilities.

Perhaps most transformative is the ability to coordinate with airlines to train the system to function in a way that is conducive and complementary to their unique brands – distinguishing them from their peers and helping drive customer engagement and loyalty. Service preferences, preferred catering and more is not only customizable, but also amenable to future upgrades and additional capabilities.

Prognostic maintenance

Intelligent systems aren’t only useful data collectors, they are great at gleaning patterns from that data – identifying trends and better enabling proactive servicing.

Product reliability is an incredibly important metric for airlines. The aircraft maintenance industry is conservatively estimated at over $20 billion, with exponential growth expected over the next several years. Providing airlines with predictive data on an individual component could allow for more efficient inventorying and scheduled maintenance – saving operators valuable time, money and resources.

And that's just one item within an aircraft. When applied across entire cabins and fleets, the operational value increases dramatically, at a more systemic level. Individual components can begin operating together, reducing common part count, the number of power supply systems needed for operation and the overall weight carried in the cabin.

Scalable technology

Scalability and the ability to match the speed of innovation is another reason for excitement.

Collectively, the industry struggles to keep up with emerging technologies simply because of the months, and often years, associated with testing, certifying and installing new solutions. It’s a major industry challenge. Intelligent, digital systems like InteliSence accelerate the technology refresh process, making upgrades nearly as seamless as updating the operating system on your smartphone.

But seams in the air travel experience won’t be ironed out all at once.

It will require big ideas, cross-industry collaboration and executing on a small scale, before rapidly expanding installation across cabins and entire fleets to begin to realize the many benefits intelligent technology can have on air travel.

Although it may seem like a long journey since Turing’s computing dreams began materializing some 80 years ago, recent accelerations in innovation and data processing have expedited our possibilities considerably. We’re at the cusp of a digital and intelligent transformation inside the aircraft cabin – and when it arrives, it will revolutionize the air travel experience 

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