APEX 2012: Panasonic showcases future in ‘Cool Room’

There was no question as to what was cool and what was not on the Panasonic Avionics booth at the APEXExpo – everything was positively below freezing in its aptly-named ‘Cool Room’.Panasonic had demonstrated some of this technology to me at Aircraft Interiors, Hamburg, earlier this year. But it has come on in leaps and bounds in just six short months.Top of the list was a demonstration of eye-tracking IFE. This allows you to select what you want to view just by looking at the icon you want on the screen. A clever infra-red beam system continuously scans your pupil position and, once calibrated, is said to be surprisingly accurate.To ‘click’, you just point at the icon you’ve selected. This was an advance on the system Panasonic showed at Hamburg that required you to concentrate on the icon for a few seconds to select it.This may be how you operate your onboard IFE in years to come.But Panasonic hasn’t stopped there. It also had a demonstration of a projected GUI system. With this, a projector in the cabin ceiling shines an image of your icon set (and other images, such as film titles) directly onto your tray table. You then just have to move your finger around the tray to select or move icons.To select a different part of the system you just slide another printed image on your table under a camera and bingo – it is captured and ready to use. The beauty is that you can update the GUI in seconds and there is nothing to clean, and nothing to break as it is just, well, light.Or what about augmented reality? Holding your iPad up against the window of the plane highlights landmarks on the ground, giving you the option of calling up information about each of them as they pass below.Not near a window? No problem – the view on the tablet screen can be changed to show a real-time depiction of what’s on the other side of the aircraft’s metal skin. This is a bird’s eye view of the world, even if the bird in question is flying at 30,000 feet.So when will we see this technology on an aircraft?Possibly never. Steve Sizelove of Panasonic’s Corporate Strategic Innovations division explained that hundreds of ideas flow through its idea’s factory, but only a few make it to market."Our role is to innovate and then evaluate to see what works and what doesn’t. But the best ideas are taken forward and perfected," Steve said.So what else does Panasonic Avionics have up its sleeve? How about a suitcase that knows what you need to pack by checking on the weather at your destination?Raining in Seattle? No problem – the suitcase can detect if your umbrella is packed.Or what about an airport departure terminal doorway that detects your presence, tells you where to go to check in and displays an update of your flight departure details automatically using near-field radio communication from your mobile."Total personalisation is key," said Steve. "Take this to the limit and you have an aircraft seat that knows your taste in TV, music and food. And a hotel room that can ‘decorate’ its walls with projected light to suit your mood or interests, or choose appropriate music based on your tastes."I think we’ll see eye tracking in first class become mainstream within a few years. Augmented reality is also on its way. But a suitcase that knows the weather and tells you what to pack? I think I’ll give that a raincheck!Panasonic gave visitors a rare glimpse of the future – and that future didn’t look that far away to me.Steve Nichols, Inflight / Inflight-Online.comLong Beach, CA

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