In-flight entertainment systems

Recently, I got an opportunity to work on in-flight entertainment(IFE) system. This opportunity opened relatively unknown world in front of me. I thought of sharing this experience through a blog article.

Avionics industry is one of earliest pioneers of adoption of software into aspects of flying. IFE is a system inside a passenger class aircraft which provides FA(Flight Attendent) to setup, configure, manage IFE and also allows to control passenger service right from the time when the flight is about to take off till it lands on the ground. IFE also provides aircraft Maintenance Personnel(MP) to configure aircraft before it is ready to be commissioned.

The avionics industry also has evolved and matured. All avioncis systems and software are expected to follow and be certified for industry standard called DO178.

Let’s look into details of typical aspects of activities performed by these two types of users on IFE.

Flight Attendent:
Seat status checking and correcting
PA/VA system configuration and management.
Content checking, preview.
Setting flight details(source and destinations)
Configuring Airshow(moving map)

Maintenance Personnel:
Software and content loading
Configuring aircraft
System test
Controlling overhead(OH) monitors functionality
Offloading logs for troubleshooting
Conformity report verification
Seat control
Carrying out various operations based on zones(business class operations are different than that of economy class)

Now let’s turn our attention to typical components of IFE system.

Typical Components of IFE
Passenger display units(on-seat touch screen devices) with control software
Flight Attendent’s system with control software
Aircraft interface unit which interfaces various hardware modules and also acts as network hub for the entire system
High-speed network
Analog and digital monitors which are retractable. The OH monitors can have any combination of analog and digital. The digital monitors would have system software which would need to be uploaded once a while when updates are available.
Media server delivering full HD quality video
IFE system content generator, loader, configurator and the content itself
Moving map system(ex. Airshow, which is one of the oldest and popular. In fact, Airshow was launched 30 years ago)
Infrastructure and framework for supporting third-party games to be run on passenger display units.
PA/VA system which can cut through existing sessions on passenger units anytime

Typical Characteristics of IFE
Fault-tolerent
Easy to replace hardware modules(also called LRUs)
Highly secure, following different Avionics industry standards(such as DO178)
Scalable to ever increasing demand on media, and ability to easily add support for new technologies in entertainment domain.
Powerful and multi-level logging subsytem
Features to carry out built-in self-test(BIT) and also entire system tests.
Ability to view at glance all passenger seat unit status

QNX CAR System
It is appropriate to note few things about typical RTOS specialized in platforms such as automobile and avionics industries.
With the advent of QNX CAR system, and similar in-car systems, it has not only created huge potential in car industry, but also created exciting ways to apply in avionics industry. This not only provides time-to-market advantage to IFE vendors but also provides a ready-made and proven platform to build on(rather than investing huge into R&D to re-invent similar platforms)

QNX CAR provides complete embedded platform with QNX(a variant of Unix operating system) on variety of processors with QNX CAR framework which is supporting touch screen, HTML5, RDBMS for specially optimized for devices(QDB), IPC mechanism called PPS(persistent publish subscribe).

QNX CAR development environment also is pretty sophisticated supporting all major development environment related features. It provides IDE for C/C++ based development called Momentics, which is Eclipse derived. For HTML application development, it does not provide any out of the box support for server-side frameworks such PHP or Apache Tomcat. The primary reason for this QNX assumes that HTML apps developed and deployed on this device will run standalone, thought also they may interact with other systems over the Internet. Though for anyone wanting to explore server side web application development, one can explore ports of Apache and go from there.

The HTML5 applications tend to be standalone in nature, and run web engine derived from open source web engine project WebKit. Many times, these HTML5/JavaScript apps need to access local resources, which is provided via JNEXT API which itself is an derivative of ExtJS framework.

Anyone wanting to know more about QNX CAR, please go here

Hope you enjoy this blog!

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