Touch Screen Avionics Go Big Time
Every new personal electronic device that I can think of uses touch screen technology to operate. It was just a matter of time before we would be tapping and swiping the screens on our avionics, and that time is here.
Garmin was first to deliver a full capability touch screen GPS navigation and comm flight management system with its GTN 750 and smaller GTN 650 earlier this year. The new line is a growth version of the company’s GSN 530/430 systems that, with more than 120,000 systems delivered, are the most popular ever in avionics history.
Garmin has also announced development of its G3000 integrated flat glass complete avionics suite that has been selected for the HondaJet and other light jets, and that system uses touch screen displays. And so does the Garmin G5000 system that is going into Cessna’s upgraded Citation Ten.
We expect that sort of innovation and on-the-edge technology from Garmin. After all, the company is only a little more than 20 years old and was founded on the belief that GPS would transform the way we fly. And the Garmin guys have been correct in most of their design decisions so far.
But what about the rest of the avionics industry? Would it accept touch screen as the way to interface with our avionics as we do with our smart phones and iPads? After a flurry of introductions of new equipment at the big Oshkosh show last week, the answer is yes.
The real seal of approval for touch screen came early in AirVenture when Rockwell Collins unveiled a new touch screen primary flight display (PFD) and multifunction display (MFD) as part of its Fusion line of avionics. Fusion is going into the largest business jets such as the Bombardier Global, as well as midsize jets. Fusion is top-of-the-line, and elements of it can be found in the Boeing 787 as well as other advanced airline jets.
Collins is the oldest and grandest name in avionics with a huge number of technology firsts. Collins created the first airborne comm radio that could be automatically tuned without hunting around with a frequency knob like you were dialing in an AM station in dad’s Buick. Collins also invented the horizontal situation indicator, the V-bar flight director, and perfected the single sideband technology that made HF a worldwide communication system. Actually, Collins communications went beyond the world because every voice ever transmitted from the moon was sent using Collins equipment.
Collins is clearly a technology leader, but is also an avionics industry giant. It doesn’t take chances with unproven methods because, well, it can’t afford to. Collins customers expect not only new technology, but proven, can’t-miss technology. The fact that Collins has rolled out touch screen controls on its top-of-the-line business jet avionics tells me touch screen is here to stay.
No offense to Garmin, Avidyne and Aspen—who have all delivered touch screen or announced touch screen systems for delivery in the coming months—but they are still newcomers to the avionics business. We expect these companies to be leading the charge because that’s what new companies must do to succeed. But the established leaders, such as Collins, have to find a balance between being a technology leader while still delivering only stuff that really works.
So get ready to tap and swipe in the cockpit just like we do with our personal devices. The flexible and intuitive nature of touch screen control that has made it totally standard in personal devices is too good to ignore when designing new avionics systems.