We open this week’s Hot Topic after a very successful and interesting trip to Hamburg for the 2015 Aircraft Interiors Exhibition. From almost every perspective there was more of everything. So much so, that your IFExpress reporters were so overwhelmed with the 3 halls worth of IFEC/Cabin display areas (approximately 100 exhibits) that we never even got to the other buildings/halls for more aircraft cabin and related show exhibitors, where there were 4 or 5 times more booths. In fact, the IFE halls themselves saw an increase of 33% and there was even a US Pavilion that provided a lower cost display exhibit solution for small businesses – in 2016, this section should grow! It will be our effort in the next month, or so, to cover booths we visited in detail with the hopes that our readers that did not go to Hamburg will get a feel for the show and a bit more information on IFEC related products and services there. We should also point out that since general show floor visitors get in free, it might be wise to use some of your vacation time if you don’t get work-nominated to go yourself!

Perhaps the best lead-in to this next story on Carlisle (you know, the cable maker) and their new aviation product was best spoken by Marketing Guru, Kris Samuelson, and it went something like this: “We built FlightGear Universal Installation to provide an agnostic solution to the installation of satcom antennas on most commercial jet aircraft.” They note: “The universal solution provides an adapter plate to attach antenna to aircraft exteriors for virtually every Ku and Ka Band large format antenna!” You can see the device on this data sheet  and it looks like a large, milled aluminum plate with installation fixtures attached. “Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, in a partnership with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, now offers a complete ARINC 791 solution for Ka- and Ku-band SATCOM installations. The complete package contains everything required for either retrofit or forward fit installations on large jet aircraft. Installation fittings are adjustable to cover the complete range of aircraft frame spacing while providing discrete interface loads to the fuselage. The aerodynamic fairing follows the fuselage curvature without requiring a large installation doubler, sealants, or fasteners through the fuselage. This design creates a simplified, standardized installation, easier maintenance inspections, and overall lower cost of ownership while enabling speed to market. Conformance to the ARINC 791 standard also helps future-proof the installation and makes upgrades to next generation antennas and SATCOM system equipment easier and faster with commonality across entire fleets.”

And yes, Carlisle is quite aware of drag implications. A detailed aerodynamic analysis is being performed currently as part of a final shape refinement to optimize the drag while still encompassing the required volume and keeping the overall installation as compact as possible for minimum weight. Lastly, we should point out that while lower profile antennas have entered the market, they are not yet a panacea. With a demand for increasing bandwidth and higher data rates, Carlisle believes that in the long term, a hybrid approach will actually be adopted by the industry, selecting the right antenna (or antennas) for the operating region of the fleet being modified. Carlisle has seen a tremendous degree of interest during, and immediately following, the Aircraft Interiors Expo probably because they have provided a solution to a seemingly widespread need.

JetPack IFE
One of the “little folks”, JetPack IFE at AIX caught our attention. Having the smallest booth there, we were surprised when we talked to Ed Playdell-Bouverie and James Vaughton, both tekkies, and very sharp, at that. Here is what they do, straight from their website –  “JetPack are a leading supplier of innovative portable solutions for Inlight Entertainment systems. Our proprietary software, VisionIFE, is the first iPad IFE platform to meet the rigorous security criteria necessary to secure Hollywood ‘early window’ content. We create branded systems for airlines and, by leveraging the technology of the latest iPads, we can significantly increase the depth and scope of content available in flight. At JetPack, we provide a full, comprehensive service from supplying technology solutions – tablets, charging and synching stations, and the world-beating support needed to support large deployments of iPads in an aviation environment – to providing a bespoke, curated content according to the exacting needs of partner airlines. We are constantly expanding and developing our offering to ensure there is not better entertainment system in the skies.” They told IFExpress that they offer iPads with content approval from “all major Hollywood Studios”, games, electronic books and music as well. You be the judge – check out their website.

On another front, we asked a couple folks in Hamburg what the future might hold in the IFE space, and one of the best responses we got was from -who else – Rich Salter at Lumexis. He noted “I thought the educational day (Passenger Experience Conference) was great this year – the Virtual Reality session and the Etihad presentation re: developing their custom interior/seating were especially interesting. A future IFE prediction, and don’t laugh – Virtual and Augmented Reality will play a part in IFEC sooner than you might think – VR is not just a Sci-Fi far-future concept anymore. Test results show that passengers immersed in a VR space (e.g., touring their destination in advance) may feel better and more relaxed after a flight even though they’ve actually been cramped into an aircraft seat.” IFExpress is waiting for more data on using a VR headset in a moving device, after an airline meal, with only 2 hours of sleep….

Before we forget, the 2015 AEEC upcoming General Session meeting in Prague will be one of the more interesting for those in the cabin interior and electronics arena. Specifically, there will be some 15 new ARINC Standards to be approved by the AEEC Executive Committee, many of which will be affecting all of us. One that we really thought was ancient history is the application of multi-core processors (Introduced in early 2000’s to personal computers) is proposed to be covered by an approval in a change to ARINC Specification 653; “This will enable avionics suppliers, for the very first time, to use multi core processors on avionics computing platforms,” said Paul Prisaznuk, AEEC Exec Secretary. “Today, every avionics computer on an airplane uses a single core processor. ARINC 653 will support dual core, quad core, multi-core type solutions.“ We note that today’s iPad Air uses a tri-core processor – you make the inference! Check out more of the proposed changes here

After almost 30 years in IFE, this has to be one of the most exciting and important Hot Topics that we have produced for our IFExpress readers. The subject is a radically new antenna (mostly) but before you delete this email and log on to Facebook hear us out. Kymeta is the Redmond, WA startup that was voted by MIT’s Technology Review as one of 2013’s Most Disruptive (technology) Companies. Our subject is airborne satellite Ka-band communication and the disruptive technology is based around something called metamaterial and is the disruptive heart of this revolutionary antenna concept. We should really say “preproduction” concept and the Kymeta organization (42 team members strong) is busily preparing to get you your data faster, cheaper and a whole lot easier than with anything flying today. In a nutshell, gone will be the high power transmitters, power eating gimbals, large radomes, heavy antennas, aircraft installation downtime – all replaced with a device more the size of a two inch thick bathmat. With this discovery setup, we wanted to tell our readers about an interview we had with Kymeta executives.

The Kymeta website is a good place for you to start. We will get to the technology soon enough but it is interesting to first look at their marketing strategy as it surprised us a bit. The interview began with Vern Fotheringham, CEO and Chairman of Kymeta stating, “No moving parts is our mantra”, describing the inner workings of their incredible satcom antenna. Before we covered the inner workings Mr. Fotheringham outlined the outer workings (sales strategy) and it makes a lot of sense. He noted that since the airborne product is two years away, they are concentrating on markets not presently saturated with Ku-band attention like commercial airline aircraft, but rather, they are looking toward sales and installations aboard business jets and regional airlines. The issue here is product sales leverage. Because of the small antenna footprint, smaller aircraft will see improvements in weight, efficiencies in drag and fuel burn, higher data rates at a reduced cost per bit and basically a new plateau of data connectivity performance. The first announcement of a working partner is Inmarsat and we expect to see a lot more familiar names later as the Kymeta product gets closer to finalization. Also we should note that presently the company does not have end-to-end, FAA certification, product goals, but rather they are sensibly seeking to become an OEM supplier of the sophisticated metamaterial antenna modules that will make devices “Powered by Kymeta” an industry best seller.

Because the beam is electronically steered there is no need for mechanical gimbals to tilt or rotate the antenna aperture. Think of it as a pencil shaped beam anchored to a plate on the top of an airplane and pointing in all directions to geosynchronous satellites. Since the beam is electronically steered there is no need for keeping the platform steady or moving an array to point at a specific satellite. We also asked about the resultant beam-width, knowing that airborne microwave systems often have overlapping challenges in talking to satellites that are separated by a few degrees.

“Many aeronautical terminals have difficulty meeting regulatory requirements when they are operated near the equator because of the skew of their highly anisotropic beam,” noted Dr. Nathan Kundtz, Kymeta founder and chief technology officer, “One of our goals is to mitigate this problem through the use of a flat panel with a much larger effective aperture size, allowing us to meet regulatory masks without the use of spreading techniques, which are cumbersome on satellite resources.”

We don’t expect you to take our view of the importance of the above developments, so we asked engineering installation expert, John Courtright, (SIE Inc.) who has been involved with well over 500 Ku-band Satcom system/antenna installs on airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and others. John told IFExpress that he first heard of the new development at a recent NBAA: “The Kymeta flat-panel metamaterial antenna is “transformative” from an aircraft system integration point of view. Firstly, it provides a lower drag coefficient with a design that essentially conforms to the aircraft, the drag coefficient goes down precipitously in that its 2 cm profile beats the 15-to-20 cm profile of most Ku-band and Ka-band radome installations. Another factor is lower maintenance cost due to longer inspection cycles being required – and yes, DTA (Damage Tolerance Analysis) will still need to be performed but the fuselage penetration required for the Kymeta design concept is much, much smaller than an electro-mechanically steered antenna. A lighter installation means better fuel-burn, which translates to lower operating costs. Also, a conformal antenna means more installation location options – this is particularly important because upper fuselage “real-estate” may be scarce, particularly on VIP and corporate jets. It also means that more aircraft can become AES (Airborne Earth Stations – this is the term for a satcom equipped aircraft to the satcom folks). Large radomes don’t work well on smaller business jets. Also, if I am not mistaken, I believe their antenna concept has a shared aperture design that means it could operate across many satcom bands and it has the potential to be frequency configurable. With all the aforementioned features and benefits, the Kymeta antenna should enable us to devote our efforts to applications development that are now severely limited by current aircraft satcom interoperability.”

OK, readers, let’s review: 1) There is a new Ka-band antenna technology on the horizon that looks to radically change the design, installation and performance of satellite communication technology. 2) The company, Kymeta, is staffed with impressive industry professionals. 3) Kymeta has broad coverage in this area with more than 107 patent assets that pertain to the aforementioned antenna. 4) The company has startup funding of $12 M, –as well an agreement with Inmarsat to develop an antenna for the aviation market. 5) During this period, Kymeta is seeking to become an OEM provider of antenna modules in the aeronautical industry and even a retail device for end users. 6) By seeking industry ventures and acting as an OEM antenna module provider, Kymeta will quite probably exceed their development goals by a long shot. Stay Tuned!

For more information contact PR@kymetacorp.com at Kymeta.

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