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NFC-Schnittstelle am Passagiersitz © Thorsten Kiehl / TUHH Institut für Flugzeug-Kabinensysteme

Aviation 4.0 sees smartphone becoming universal key

Scientists at Technical University Hamburg-Harburg and partners working on interface solution in air cabins as part of research project

Travellers are always looking for something – their subway ticket, flight ticket or boarding pass. And before they can board the plane, they have to carry all kinds of papers with them in addition to their luggage. Fortunately, this is about to change. More and more airline passengers will soon be able to use their smart phones and tablets in much the same way as on the ground. The Digital and Secure Processes in the Cabin for Passengers and Crew (DiProPax) research project, co-ordinated by the Institute for Cabin Systems at the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH), is striving to lay the groundwork for further improvements. Researchers there are collaborating with their colleagues in firms such as NXP Semiconductors. Even though “Bring your own device” (BYOD) is gaining popularity, the use of this technology aboard airliners is still hampered by technological constraints. This is the entry point for DiProPax.

A universal key to your travel experience

Professor Ralf God, head of TUHH’s Institute for Cabin Systems, noted: “The passenger should be able to connect to the systems in the cabin by way of a smartphone or tablet.” They would be able to order beverages, look at the on-board menu, buy duty-free goods or watch a movie. Passengers would also be able to log onto the internet, to receive updated travel information or to reserve a hotel room. This would all be possible simply by downloading an electronic universal key that is valid for the entire journey. “Passengers would get the key with their smartphones, have access to public transport, be able to board their designated aircraft and to claim their hotel room”, said Prof. God. The key or “token” is generated when a passenger books a trip.

Interface for tablet and smartphone

This new connectivity is made possible by installing contactless interfaces aboard airliners. The contactless interface itself is not a novelty, however. This technology is already in use for electronic payment, banking and for personal identity cards. It is more widely used in Asia and in the United States than in Europe. The network card for Tokyo’s public transport system, for instance, can be used as an electronic payment card akin to the ‘Geldkarte’ or Money Card used in Germany. Estonia and Latvia use the contactless interface for e-government and people can receive their election documents online or contact their local government via the interface.

This universal, digital key allows airlines to boost their customer relations management and to introduce new models for generating revenue. Moreover, the work aboard an airplane can be improved by contactless interfaces as well. Cabin crew, ground personnel and pilots can use them with their own devices, thus gaining access to the aircraft’s on-board systems.

Until now, security concerns precluded the introduction of such interfaces. “DiProPax” is addressing these issues: “We must show that the new interface does not interfere with the other systems on board”, said Prof. God. Many mobile devices did not have a contactless interface which hampered their introduction.

Hamburg-based firms’ participating

Among the companies participating in “DiProPax” are the Hamburg-based NXP Semiconductors, KID Systems and Telit Wireless Solutions all of which operate in aviation. The Dutch NXP’s Germany headquarters is in Hamburg-Lokstedt where the firm is working on a safe solution for generating a digital key from an electronic passport. NXP developers are also trying to come with a way to store the key safely and to enable secure communications with an e-shop. The firm aims to develop applications for secure e-payments and micropayments in the aircraft cabin, said NXP. KID System, a developer of electronic cabin systems based in Buxtehude, is developing technology for installing the interface in aircraft cabins. Telit Wireless Solutions, a global Internet of Things specialist with an R&D Center and Sales Office in Hamburg, is working on the software. However, the products will only be ready for the market in three to five years. Prof. God plans to set up a demonstration facility at the Tech Center of Hamburg’s Center for Applied Aviation Research (ZAL).

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