A UK developer is working on replacing the current heavy aircraft windows with uber-light smartscreen panels, to decrease fuel consumption and airfares. A windowless plane allows passengers to see what’s going on outside, as well as checking their email and surfing the Internet. In a vision of what the next generation of commercial aircraft may look like in little more than a decade, full-length screens allowing constant views of the world outside may replace windows. Passengers might be able to switch the view on or off according to their preference, identify prominent sights by tapping the screen or even just surf the Internet.
The early-stage concept for the windowless plane, based on technology used in mobile phones and televisions, comes from the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI); an organisation with sites across northeast England that works with companies to develop new products. It imagines how large, hi-definition, ultra thin and lightweight displays may form the inside of the fuselage; displaying images of the exterior from cameras mounted on the plane’s exterior. However, the real ambition echoes a constant quest for many businesses in the aviation industry on how to reduce weight. Lighter panels could decrease fuel consumption, thereby decreasing fares. According to the CPI, for every 1% reduction in the weight of an aircraft, there is a saving in fuel of 0.75%.
Dr. Jon Helliwell of the CPI, said: “The idea came about after discussions on how printable electronics, in which the centre specialises, might be used. We had been speaking to people in aerospace and we understood that there was this need to take weight out of the aircraft. By putting windows into a plane, the fuselage needs to be strengthened and by omitting them, in favour of walls of screens on panels, the fuselage may be lighter.”
These futuristic plans may involve screen panels reflecting whatever view of the outside the passenger wanted, changing in accordance with the direction of their eyes. The screens may be made using organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), a combination of materials that give out their own light when activated by electricity.
The CPI is one of seven bodies under the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, an umbrella group that receives government funding to drive growth in manufacturing. Part of the way the CPI operates is to identify challenges in the industry, such as the windowless plane, and develop ways to overcome them, according to Helliwell. Using £35 million worth of advanced equipment in its Sedgefield facility, the CPI says it’s working on technologies to advance flexible OLEDs and address challenges of cost and durability. This might lead to the development of the OLEDs and the windowless plane; however, it might also be used in smart packaging for medicines or food, which may contain information displayed on mobile phones.
Dr. Helliwell also stated: “The concept for the plane, letting passengers see outside while allowing a lighter fuselage, followed discussions with the aerospace industry. The idea of having the displays lining the inside of the plane might become reality in ten years, after other building blocks in the development of OLED are completed. We are talking about it now because it matches the kind of development timelines that they have in the aerospace industry. So you may have a display next to a seat if you wanted it; you may have a blank area next to a seat if you wanted it; you might have complete flexibility as to where you put the panel screens. You might put screens on the back of the seats in the middle and link them to the same cameras.”
How may air travel experiences be enhanced further?