Aptly named, RAVE from IMS is our star this week… and that is what it is getting from airlines! RAVE capitalizes on airlines’ desire for increased reliability and decreased weight and complexity – circumstances exacerbated by the economic downturn.  Rising fuel costs and the need to eliminate excess weight continues to characterize IFE requirements today. For a company like IMS, reversing decades with a completely different system architecture – at a time when airlines were reducing the amount of money spent on IFE – was a calculated risk. IFExpress snagged a one-on-one with Joe Renton, IMS Founder and CEO, and asked about the most successful IFE system introduction we know about. We also note, 2011 was the best year in the company’s history and with that introduction – read on:

Q: What exactly is the IMS RAVE offering for single aisle commercial airplanes?
RAVE (Reliable Affordable and Very Easy) is a next-generation DO-160 qualified IFE system providing high-definition audio/video on demand to each seat for the price of a typical overhead video system. The entire Ethernet-based system is essentially comprised of two LRUs – a single headend System Control Unit (SCU) and the Seat Display Unit (SDU) at each seat. Since all of the content resides at the seat, there is no need for a large Video Control Center (VCC) or to monopolize a bag bin. It is important to note, that while we are talking about a single aisle solution – the same RAVE system has already been installed in twin-aisle aircraft as well; just add seats.

Q: IMS seems to be taking on bigger vendors with the RAVE Solution. Having said that, why do you think the RAVE product is so successful and what features make RAVE stand out?
RAVE provides the airlines an AVOD system that is highly reliable, lower power, and lighter weight for much less. In today’s world of higher fuel costs and increasing passenger expectations, RAVE delivers entertainment and information with superior quality and a simple user interface via a capacitive touch screen. While our feature set is comparable to existing IFE systems, we continue to develop new applications to keep the passenger experience rich and exciting. With these attributes, more airlines are finding AVOD more affordable and easier to install where this was not possible before.

Each RAVE SDU contains all the hardware and software to provide
entertainment at each seat – resulting in a fast and reliable experience for every passenger regardless of the number of seats. There are no servers or distribution boxes that could cause a group of seats (or the entire aircraft) to be without entertainment. Should a passenger SDU fail – no other seat or passenger is affected – therefore no more seat/zone/cabin IFE system resets. Additionally, our patented design allows the cabin crew to replace the SDU inflight (within seconds) – allowing the passenger to enjoy the entertainment system for the rest of the flight.

Seat suppliers also find that RAVE is very easy to install and certify – resulting in lower seat integration costs and shorter time to install. Since the SDUs are very low power (about 10 Watts) and thin, they are more easily integrated into smaller and narrower seatbacks, which are common in single-aisle aircraft, and also a growing trend for all aircraft.

Reliability is also a key element for RAVE and our customers. Since the system architecture is comprised of effectively only two LRUs, the system is easy to maintain. No longer is a dedicated and highly skilled maintenance team required to possess hardware, software and IT backgrounds to maintain the aircraft. Additionally, the RAVE architecture doesn’t require outbound support for maintenance or spares, thus reducing logistics and hardware costs significantly.

Q: Will the RAVE system be offerable for the B737MAX and A320NEO (or any new airplane, for that matter) or will IMS prefer to install the RAVE System as a retrofit-only program?
We have focused on a retrofit solution for RAVE for the past two years; however we have had several discussions with various OEMs for installation as line fit. Our system architecture is compatible with line fit installations for single as well as twin aisle aircraft.

Q: What screen size offerings are available for the single aisle aircraft…seat back, in-arm, bulkhead, overhead?
RAVE currently supports a variety of screen sizes from 9 inch to 17 inch. We are also developing larger displays to support other premium class seating configurations, albeit mostly for twin aisle aircraft. It is also interesting to note that our seatback displays are identical to our bulkhead and in-aisle/overhead displays, thus reducing part numbers and spares costs.

Q: Since RAVE is flying today, can you provide a bit more of information like: how many seats/planes are on order, are flying, which airlines are so equipped, what aircraft are involved?
RAVE has been selected by 9 airlines. By the time this is printed we will be flying on four airlines, with the initial entry into service beginning December 2011, and we are FAA/EASA certified on A330, A340 and B747-400 aircraft. Installations of B767 and B777s occur later this year and we will have about thirty (30) aircraft installed by mid-2012. We have programs integrating with ten (10) different seat suppliers, and growing.

Q: What is the weight per seat of your offering?
RAVE per seat weights and power will vary by system and aircraft configurations. However, we currently have aircraft installations that average about 3 pounds per seat that include an entire RAVE system, including cables, and average power per seat of just over 10 Watts. These results are achieved by the low weight / power of our seat components, as well as a single headend component (SCU).

Q: What seat vendors are potential suitors for seat back installation – or – which seat vendors are presently involved with your RAVE system. Are they new or retrofit installations?
Our RAVE programs are being integrated into various seat models provided by ACRO, AVIO, BE, Contour, Geven, Recaro, Sicma, Sogerma, Thompson and ZIM.

Q: Would you like to address any price or installation advantages that your system has over the competition?
As mentioned earlier, the system architecture lends itself to be easily installed and maintained. With the ten seat suppliers and eight aircraft integrators, installation costs and lead times are significantly reduced. We completed our first aircraft installation and were flying in less than 12 months from the start of a program. That may be an industry first; to introduce a new system with new seats and be fully certified and flying in 10 months. Our system price will vary based on the system and aircraft configuration, however we are typically at least half the price of the traditional IFE systems available today.

Finally, IFExpress asked Joe Renton founder and CEO of The IMS Company about “David vs Goliath” attitude of the whole IMS team and he told us: “Airlines often ask what sets IMS apart from the other ‘up and coming’ IFE suppliers. Longevity for one; IMS has been a profitable business for over 16 years. Innovation is another trademark of our company. IMS has made a career out of innovating IFE solutions that others simply forgot about or didn’t understand. RAVE is the latest result of bringing our unique combination of experience and innovation to the airline industry,” said Joe. “The fact that eight airlines; including Lufthansa chose RAVE before it ever flew is a testimony to the strength of the RAVE vision and the trust that airlines have been willing to invest in IMS.” We say – hardware vendors who focus on cost, weight, power, and reliability will call the shots in time of expensive fuel. Airline-centric, you bet!

Editor’s Note: With AIX looming, we wanted to assure our readers that the IFExpress Pre-Show Edition will be sent out Sunday March 25 while the our regular March 27 edition will be sent out while we are at the show. Here is a Hot Topic Hint for next week – Astronics New Home!

Last week we gave you the design philosophy that surrounds the Panasonic single-aisle IFE solutions as we felt it was a fitting introduction to their IFE designs. This week we give you a bit more on the hardware slated for single-aisle aircraft, and you can bet they will be on the NextGen planes when they rollout!

Q: Describe Panasonic’s eX1 solution.
eX1 is Panasonic’s next-generation single-aisle Ethernet-based IFEC system. It is OEM offerable at Boeing. It uses a server-network-client architecture, with options for local storage, to deliver HD entertainment over a 1000 Mbps network to every seat in the cabin.

eX1 offers a wide variety of monitors and handsets that demonstrate Panasonic’s commitment to uncompromising industrial design and performance. In Economy cabins, the system is optimized for Panasonic’s Eco series monitors. These smart monitors offer a wide range of features including sleek and elegant industrial design, capacitive touch, amazing contrast and viewing angles, low-power consumption, a lightweight construction, High Definition video, integrated peripherals and local solid-state media storage with Eco V2 models.

The system can use Panasonic’s Elite monitors in the premium cabin. These self-contained, high-performance smart monitors offer a modern and sleek industrial design. Available in 11.1”, 16” and 18” versions, they feature high definition video, capacitive and multi-touch screens, local solid-state media storage and support for remote jacks for audio, USB, etc.

eX1 also leverages the latest in Panasonic’s advancements in handset and passenger control unit (PCU) design including the company’s new premium PCU; a small, sleek and durable standard handset for credit card transactions, telephony and gaming; and the company’s touch screen and video handsets, which can offer full media and applications capabilities, including support for video.

With eX1, passengers can navigate enhanced interactives in a similar manner as to modern smartphones and tablets. Panasonic has leveraged Qt and Android technologies to bring an immersive navigational experience to the passengers onboard the aircraft. These interactive are backed by the Panasonic Applications Store, which brings the applications from a worldwide network of developers to airlines and passengers. Airlines simply select the applications for their passengers that best suit their individual requirements by accessing the store portal. These applications are loaded to the store after testing and certification by Panasonic Avionics Corporation, significantly reducing each application’s time-to-market.

Like all of Panasonic’s X Series solutions, eX1 can be combined with Panasonic’s Global Communications Suite to further improve the passenger’s experience through connectivity and broadband-enhanced applications.

Q: What is eXLite?
Interestingly our competitors sometimes chose to compare their current systems to previous generations of Panasonic IFE and conveniently overlook current systems. Our latest eXLite system weighs just over three pounds a seat and really competitively priced considering the amazing passenger experience it delivers. And, it is connectivity ready.

As our lightest weight and lowest power X Series system, it is a retrofit solution that was designed to feature a streamlined architecture that offered significant improvements in weight, power and cost, yet still delivers an amazing passenger experience.

eXLite leverages Panasonic’s Eco series monitors, which enable an elegant industrial design, seamless interior integration, capacitive touch, proximity sensors, incredible viewing angles, and next-generation processors. It also has a streamlined architecture that reduces weight and cost. Like all Panasonic X Series solutions, eXLite features a flexible architecture that lets airlines customize the passenger experience by cabin class.

As with eX1, eXLite also leverages Qt and Android technologies for its interactives, which are also backed by the Panasonic Applications Store.

Q: Can you give us an overview of your DMPES system?
Panasonic’s DMPES system is a simple, reliable and inexpensive overhead IFE solution geared for narrowbody fleets such as the A320 and B737. It delivers superior HD quality with minimal cabin footprint.

The DMPES overhead system can work as a complementary system with other Panasonic IFE solutions such as eXW or eXConnect to provide a full-breadth of options to passengers. As one of Panasonic’s most popular products, DMPES is flying on nearly 2000 aircraft for over 200 customers worldwide.

Look out some amazing advances in the DMPES solution offering at AIE Expo in Hamburg 2012.

Q: What about eXW?
eXW is a versatile line-fit and retrofit solution that lets airlines deliver engaging content and exciting interactives to personal electronic devices (PEDs).

With the eXW system, passengers are able to access services such as on-board movies, music, news, and in-cabin services, all through a personalized portal on their own Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, tablet, Smartphone or other PED. The portal can be configured to airline requirements, including airline branding and passenger personalization features. eXW systems will be capable of storing a minimum of 40 full-length, multi-language movies, 100 short programs; 100 audio CDs; electronic newspapers, digital magazines, and cached web content.

When combined with Panasonic’s eXConnect solution, eXW will be able to offer broadband-enhanced applications such as high speed Internet access, social media services, email, and even live television content through the company’s eXTV service. Panasonic will continue to enhance eXW with features including food and beverage ordering and payment, duty-free shopping, games, moving maps, tail camera display, connecting gate information, and more.

Q: And finally, can you give us an overview of your Global Communications Suite?
All businesses focus on revenue up, cost down. GCS delivers both. GCS is the enabler for the passenger centric business platform allowing airlines to provide broadband connectivity, live content globally and mobile phone service to their passengers and their marketing and operations groups. GCS leverages Ku band satellites that provide the best and economical solution for airline broadband connectivity. The complete solution includes the company’s eXConnect and eXPhone technologies, as well as Panasonic’s live television service, eXTV.

Q: Are you able to use connectivity to enhance the passenger’s experience through the seatback?
Absolutely. With our Global Communications Suite, we can combine airlines’ IFE strategies with broadband connectivity and leverage real time passenger data to be even more targeted and more intelligent serving content from the ground that is timely and therefore much higher value. With connectivity, the content and overall passenger experience can literally be refreshed in-flight. Such services must include highly targeted advertising, concierge services, internet and social networking, phone service, special offers from regional partners such as hotels and rental car agencies, real-time credit card validation for high value shopping, streaming television, and more.

With connectivity, we also can monitor the IFEC system in real time from our central ground-based mission control center to ensure that it will deliver against high passenger expectations at a minimum cost. While today’s IFEC systems are already incredibly reliable, connectivity has the potential to further improve the system availability, fostering passenger satisfaction and loyalty while minimizing cost per available seat mile.

Q: What then, is your view of the Panasonic difference?
We can sum it up in four words – Continuity, dedication, capability and passion. Continuity – Panasonic is the only IFEC supplier has been around since the very beginning of our industry. We bring more than 30 years of innovation to the cabin, with a legacy that includes dozens of industry “firsts.” Capability – We have unmatched capabilities in R&D, design, development, testing, deployment and support. We have a highly integrated supply chain giving us total control of quality and product lifecycle. Dedication – We also have a vested interest in our customers’ success. With a global support team in 53 countries around the world, we help protect an airline’s investment with services and capabilities that are tailored to an airline’s individual needs. Our customers know that we are in it for the long haul. Passion – Finally, and most importantly, we are truly passionate about what we do. That makes the ultimate difference that we know our customers can see, and it reflects in our rich history of success.

Editor Note: Finally, we want to thank Brian Bardwell, Panasonic’s go-to-guy for PR who has provided incalculable help in coordinating this “monster” Hot Topic. Introduce yourself at AIX and meet one the best in the business!

IFExpress has talked with the busy people at Thales to get their spin on our Single-Aisle Solution series and without further adieu, here is our Internet interview with the Thales IFE team, and it might just possibly be the longest Hot Topic yet!

Q: Please describe the Thales system destined for single-aisle aircraft?
In 2010, Thales announced its new generation system, TopSeries AVANT, which is the company’s premier system for advanced platforms. It is a fully scalable, light weight, high performance system with sleek design and award winning capabilities. 

For the single-aisle market, the system scales from lean to lavish for maximum flexibility.  For example, at the seat, an airline can start with a baseline touch screen Smart Video Display Unit that features HD resolution, 3D processing capability and high capacity local storage (for seat-centric reliability). Add-on features could then include privacy filters, slim-line passenger control devices for additional passenger convenience, Smart Passenger Interface Modules that enable passengers to interface their personal devices (i.e. Apple products) to the system, credit card reader, connectivity and the unique Touch Passenger Media Unit, a handheld 3.8” touch screen device that supports OTS Android apps and custom airline apps. 

Q: What aircraft and which airlines have installed the system?
The TopSeries AVANT system was first selected by Qatar Airways with the full system on the airline’s A350 fleet. The first delivery is scheduled for 2013. The system is designed for all Boeing and Airbus aircraft both single and twin aisle.

Q: Can you tell our readers a bit about how many seats are flying and why your product was chosen by the airlines?
Though TopSeries AVANT will not enter into service until 2013, each day approximately 150,000 passengers use the current TopSeries system. That’s more than 50 million viewers per year – and the number keeps growing. The system is technically advanced, scalable, and supports a wide range of applications for both passengers and crew. For these reasons, more than 60 world airlines have selected the Thales product.

But, that’s not all. The Thales IFEC organization is made up of more than 1200 passionate people who speak the customer’s language, listen and respond to customer needs and desires, and flat out work hard to ensure on-time delivery and product quality excellence. Thales is a very open, honest and energized organization with employees that enjoy their work, provide personalized service, global support and deliver on innovation (as the industry has witnessed in 2010 – 2011).

Q: Can you describe a bit about the technology behind the Thales system and how and why it is better than the competition – installation ease, weight, image quality, seat centricity, etc?
Improvements the TopSeries AVANT system brings to the market include:
Advanced Reliability: The highest standard of excellence starts with system reliability and is why the new TopSeries AVANT incorporates up to 256GB of content storage at the seat. This independent storage capability coupled with added redundancy within the head-end solid state digital servers adds further protection against any dark seats. 

Efficiency: The TopSeries AVANT gives back the aircraft by simplifying the architecture. For example, you will not see a seat electronics box under the seat. With fewer components, power and weight requirements are reduced by 30% and 20% respectively and reliability is increased.

Performance: The processing power within the TopSeries AVANT Smart Video Display Unit has increased speed of up to 30% compared to earlier units. New chip sets support both 2D and 3D acceleration. These technologies and high definition video capability deliver a vibrant presentation and empower the passenger to do more, faster. The unit incorporates leading edge tablet technology with Dual-Core ARM Cortex A9 processor and capacitive touch screen technology which includes multi-touch capabilities (swipe, pinch, rotate, etc…). 

Scalability: The TopSeries AVANT system scales from a simplified system with a space efficient digital head-end, Ethernet network and touch screen Smart Video Display Units to a fully loaded system with Smart Passenger Integrated Modules, Credit Card reader, Touch Passenger Media Unit and Connectivity. Ideal for both linefit and retrofit applications, the system matches the needs of most airlines.

Software Architecture: The software architecture is based on Android OS which provides a tremendous opportunity to efficiently integrate applications from the Google® Marketplace and build custom airline capabilities.

Unique features the TopSeries AVANT system brings to the market include:
Touch Passenger Media Unit (TouchPMU) is a 3.8 inch LCD display that can host endless Android™ applications found in the Google® Marketplace and support custom airline applications. It functions as a stand alone device or a perfect complement to the TopSeries in-seat display. Enjoy web browsing, interactive accelerometer/haptic vibration feedback games, Email, SMS, Shopping, Moving Maps, and more. The TouchPMU also supports PSS functions and seat controls. The product installs within the seatback, seat arm or center console.

Smart Passenger Interface Modules (SmartPIMs) enable passengers to interface their personal devices  (i.e. Apple products) to the system, and accommodate other onboard capabilities.

The product is the first modular and interchangeable interface technology that can be installed in a variety of configurations giving the airline choice in how they integrate the SmartPIM into the seat environment. Up to four modules fit into the main assembly giving the airline the opportunity to offer different features by class. All modules are precisely the same size for quick and easy change-out and the electrical interface is standard. The modularity of the SmartPIM makes the product future proof. Interfaces include:
•          Barcode Reader – Pull-up favorite programs by scanning boarding pass.
•          Bluetooth – Connect to Wireless Handset
•          IR Wireless – Connect to Wireless IR Headsets
•          NFC – Pay with Credit Card
•          Wi-Fi – Communicate to/from Wireless Handset
•          Channel/Volume – Select channels and volume
•          Magnetic Audio Jack- Connect headset (reduces breakage)
•          RCA Audio/Video – Connect A/V portables
•          Standard USB – Charge & Connect portables
•          Special USB – Connect Apple® and Android™ devices
•          Attendant/Call – Call flight attendant via capacitive touch button

Q: Is this system offerable on Boeing and Airbus? Which aircraft?
The current TopSeries system is offerable and flying on Airbus: A319/320/321/300/330/340; Boeing: 747/757/767/777; Embraer: ERJ170/175/190.

The future TopSeries AVANT system is offerable on Airbus: A350/380. Thales is working closely with Boeing to achieve 787 program offerability early 2012.

Q: Tell IFExpress readers more…
Beyond the advancements that the TopSeries AVANT brings, comes the bigger solution that fulfills the requirement of managing content and data on/off the aircraft. GateSync, a wireless ground network designed to transform ground operations is unique to Thales. The mission of GateSync is to lower airline operating cost by consolidating content and data loading requirements into a single, seamless wireless connection to the aircraft. With GateSync, airlines will have fast, secure wireless transmission capability that optimizes ground operations and personalizes the passenger experience. Any time, any airport, GateSync moves time sensitive data, such as the passenger manifest, daily news, meal inventories, surveys, crew logs and system performance data, giving airlines new efficiencies and capabilities. It will also provide real-time access for remote diagnostics of the IFEC system and potentially other aircraft systems. For several years now, Thales and its partners have been designing and testing GateSync with anticipation that 2012 will be the year the solution is used in daily airline operations.

Q: Our readers would be interested in weight per seat.
Our internal policy does not permit us to give a specific number, but the one thing that keeps our weight down is that the TopSeries AVANT system eliminates the need for seatboxes.

Q: What options are available (screen size/quality, overhead monitor options, inseat video, user interface personalization, content service offerings, etc?
·         In-Seat Screens: With screen sizes ranging from 9” – 23” class, the new SDVU-G4 (screen for the TopSeries AVANT system) comes in multiple colors including red, blue and black.
·         System Navigation:  Touch screen, slim-line passenger control units, the new TouchPMU are all choices for system navigation. At the last APEX conference, attendees witnessed the use of “Gesture Control” technology which allows you to navigate through the system with the simple wave of a hand – no touching a screen or handset! The technology exists today in the living room with gaming but Thales is the first to demonstrate it in a passenger seat. To do this, modifications were required in order to address the constraints of seat confinement and finer detection of hand/arm versus entire body movement.
·         Applications: The current TopSeries supports a wide range of applications which are available in packages (Classic, Premium and Signature) with optional, value-added capabilities including personalization, ancillary revenue generation and crew & ops efficiency apps. With TopSeries AVANT, the library multiplies due to the Android OS. See our full current list of applications, visit the Thales website.

Q: We understand Thales has opened up their Android App center, does this affect in any way the single aisle product? If so, can you advise links to apps or whatever?
Yes, Thales has now opened up a portal geared toward Android developers. Visit www.thales-ifec.com click on Applications and you’ll see a developer’s invitation to the world of IFEC. 

Q: Are there plans for a new A320neo product? Does it include Wi-Fi?
Yes, Thales will expand its TopSeries product portfolio in ways that address the specific needs of airlines that have selected future single aisle aircraft types. The long-term goal for the single aisle Thales IFE business is to offer a product that is (1) attractively priced (2) has highly valued standard features and upgrade possibilities and (2) is supported by a global team. The single aisle segment is strategically important to Thales. Details on how Thales addresses this segment are soon to come in 2012, stay tuned.

In terms of Wireless Content Distribution, here too, Thales will have a solution which could include the Siemens proven Wi-Fi application. Thales did make an announcement at the 2011 APEX and we are on schedule for a Q1 trial with a major European airline.  Media Streaming to passenger devices adds to the scalability of the TopSeries system bringing passengers even more to their in-flight experience. 

For more info contact LORI KRANS

New, Scalable HD In-Seat Solution Delivers Unprecedented Versatility & Maximum Reliability

Seattle, WA | September 13, 2011 —Rockwell Collins today unveiled PAVES™ 3 – the industry’s most versatile single-aisle in-flight entertainment (IFE) system that features a scalable high-definition (HD) in-seat solution architected for maximum reliability. The announcement was made today at the 2011 Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Seattle.

Rockwell Collins PAVES 3 is the only single-aisle digital IFE system to offer customizable cabin configurations. Airlines can select from a variety of overhead and in-seat monitor combinations throughout the aircraft. The HD on-demand, in-seat solution maximizes passenger and operator satisfaction with a vast range of innovative features powered by a robust operating system.

“Single-aisle aircraft operations present a unique set of requirements for in-flight entertainment,” said Dave Austin, vice president and general manager, Cabin and ElectroMechanical Systems for Rockwell Collins. “PAVES 3 provides the features passengers want while meeting the needs of airlines to make quick gate turns without additional content loading or maintenance.”

Passengers can connect their mobile devices to the PAVES 3 system to access their personal content, such as movies and games, and view it on the HD in-seat monitors. The intuitive touch-screen user interface enables an at-home, on-demand experience.

Other innovative capabilities of the PAVES 3 in-seat monitors include an operating system that supports applications from numerous sources, flexible content storage that suits individual airlines’ needs, a quick-release mechanism for easy maintenance, live updates from digital news sources and magazines, and real-time monitoring through remote diagnostics.

The PAVES 3 system builds upon Rockwell Collins’ industry-leading PAVES and dPAVES systems, which are installed on 1,600 aircraft, and includes dramatic reductions in size, weight and power consumption. The system is available as a forward fit option or can be installed as an upgrade to existing PAVES and dPAVES systems to bring in-seat capabilities to those aircraft.