When the history of general aviation is written, 2011 will be the year of the iPad. Rarely have we seen new technology adapted faster than the iPad has been. Pilots have always been early adopters of new technology, though, so it’s no surprise that the iPad and its accessories and applications were practically the theme of this year’s Oshkosh. When you saw a crowd in a booth or standing room only in a forum, chances are the iPad was the cause.
Of course, Oshkosh this year was as exciting as ever. For all of you who attended AirVenture, I am sure you will agree. For those of you who didn’t, you may have seen all of the exciting news coming out of Aspen. At our annual media breakfast, we announced our new Connected™ Panel line of products. Connected Panel provides connectivity between tablet (iPad, droid) applications and the compatible installed avionics through Aspen’s Connected™ Panel gateway and Aspen’s MFD.
We are quite excited about this Connected™ product line. The use of these tablet devices on airplanes has grown as fast as anything I have seen in my career. The one thing missing on all of the current applications is the access to interact with the certified avionics.
The concept is very simple: Connected Panel creates an open standard for two-way data exchange between un-certified applications and the certified avionics utilizing Aspen’s Connected™ Panel gateway and the Aspen MFD. To address the certification considerations, we’ve implemented patent-pending data exchange methods which we’ve built into our software API and using the Aspen MFD to ensure pilots review and approve any inputs into the certified avionics systems on the airplane. These methods protect the certified avionics from any possible interference or disruption, keep the pilot in the loop, and provide security of the exchanged data. At no time can an application on an iPad be in direct control of the aircraft or its systems.
This announcement exploded on the Internet. I have been exceptionally interested in all of the reactions to the concept on different forums and blogs, both in and outside of aviation. The concept even got picked up by Macworld and the extended high tech community. In fact, if one makes a simple search of Aspen Connected Panel through Google, more than 700 results were posted in the days since the announcement! Comments range from “This is very cool” to people who think one will be able to fly the airplane with an iPad or even conspiracy theorists who believe someone will be able to hack into the airplane software.
Of course, none of the comments regarding controlling the airplane or being able to hack into the airplane are true. After all, many of us here at Aspen are pilots and aircraft owners too! The architecture does not even provide the opportunity for someone to take the pilot out of the loop, hack into the avionics system, or in any way affect the availability of flight critical functionality.
The real power of Connected™ is in the ability to facilitate innovative applications being created on tablet devices daily for aviation purposes. We announced our launch partners at Oshkosh and we have had a continuous stream of requests from other application developers and avionics manufacturers to become part of the Connected Panel program.
We have seen a lot of attention on flight planning, data logging, position replay, exceedence alerting, on-condition maintenance reports, and other interesting ideas. A typical scenario would be to plan and brief a flight plan in ForeFlight, enter the cockpit and upload your flight plan through the Connected™ Panel which will allow you to load it into your GPS navigator. During flight, route changes can be exchanged between the Connected™ Panel and your ForeFlight application on the iPad giving you quick access to the necessary chart data for your flight. After landing you could then download all applicable pilot log information, engine, parameters and GPS navigation information for use by iPad or desktop applications when you get back to your home or office. However, we believe that aviation enthusiasts will come up with new applications that will stretch the limits of our current imagination.
We at Aspen are proud to once again be the first to bring new, groundbreaking technology to the General Aviation community. We expect a lot of innovation to flourish from and through this product and are as anxious as you to see what comes next. As always, we would love to hear your comments and ideas!