Posted on: 23 January 2015 by Mark Howells
In this in-depth look at one of the submissions for the 2015 Crystal Cabin Awards (CCAs), Inflight-Online.com talks to Birte Jürgensen, CEO of Zweigrad alongside partner Timo Wietzke, about the company’s entry – L.IFE – a fully integrated reading lamp and passenger control unit (PCU) for the first class cabin.
Zweigrad, based in Hamburg, has been running for over ten years and is behind the hardware and graphical user interfaces (GUIs) used by Lufthansa Technik’s Nice HD in-flight entertainment (IFE) solution. The company bears the slogan, ‘the beauty of understanding.’
The philosophy behind this phrase, to come up with new ideas which combine functionality and emotion, also applies to the company’s conceptual think tank, known as the ‘Vision Panel.’ It was this panel which came up with the L.IFE concept.
So what is L.IFE and how does it fit the Vision Panel’s criteria? Jürgensen explains the basic setup: It’s a reading lamp with four flexible OLED touchscreens each about the size of a smartphone (think Sony Experia Z1, which is five inches in length) making up one very high-tech lampshade.
Each screen, or each side of the lampshade, has a different function: information and environment; audio; video; and communications; and the separation of these functions on different screens means that a passenger is only ever two interactions away from reaching their target function.
L.IFE is mounted on the arm of a first class suite (either left or right), but can be altered using two hinges. Passengers can either rotate the PCU (the lampshade) to reach their desired function, or the whole lamp (from the base) if they prefer. Then it’s just a matter of clicking on their desired function screen. Jürgensen also says that the angle of the OLED screens can be changed, so passengers can avoid the glare of sunlight.
This is all wonderful, but how does it work as a lamp? There’s a time-out on the IFE software, so if you leave it inactive for a certain period, the screens will switch off and return to the simple lamp function. Otherwise, there’s a bar at the bottom of the lamp which acts as the on off-switch (the on-off switch for the IFE functions is separately located on the GUI). By clicking it a passenger can change the lighting setting between a straightforward table lamp, a reading lamp (which they can move to position over their book) and a mood lighting device with a range of different colours to choose from. By touching and holding this switch, Jürgensen says the light can be dimmed.
However, she hopes the design and functionality is self-explanatory, claiming that ease of use was one of the Zweigrad’s primary concerns. Why? Because L.IFE is actually targeted at a very specific group of travellers. Jürgensen claims the first class demographic are traditionally older, so have less experience with technology.
Zweigrad also hopes it addresses passenger preference for more, larger interfaces, without taking up any more space in the cabin than usual. Finally, in terms of installation it’s efficient too, as there’s only one connection needed for both the lighting and the IFE.
Jürgensen continues, L.IFE goes against the BYOD (bring your own device) trend. It’s been created in a way that separates it from consumer technology – it homes in on specific needs in aviation and passenger experience in the airline industry. As it is set on a fixed base for both take-off and landing, nothing needs to be stowed, allowing seamless interaction throughout all phases of flight.
Does the ease of use mean the idea was easy to come up with? Absolutely not. Jürgensen confides that as an extra project alongside their day jobs, a group of up to three people were involved for a period of approximately two years to come up with the design concept for L.IFE.
It looks incredibly futuristic, but Jürgensen notes that the concept has simply found a new usage for existing technologies. Inflight-Online.com rounds off the conversation by asking whether that means we’ll be seeing L.IFE in a commercial airline cabin anytime soon. Jürgensen reiterates that it’s just a design study at this moment in time, but admits there has been a significant amount of interest in the concept, so perhaps in the future this now-futuristic IFE solution will become a reality.Zweigrad will be attending the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg between 14 and 16 April to see the outcome of the 2015 Crystal Cabin Awards.