If the Airplane Windows Could Talk…


Hey…what’s that down there?

I’ve certainly wondered this plenty of times while flying and I know I’m not the only one. So how would you feel if the airplane windows could answer that question for you? Like knowing that you’re looking or pointing at something and automagically combine that with flight data like location and direction and speed to be able to provide details about what you’re looking at. Both a tiny bit creepy and incredibly awesome at the same time. And Airbus has filed a patent application on precisely such a system.

airbus-window-ife-patent-application

Essentially the claim made is that, while IFE systems are nice, they are not sufficiently distracting and that travelers are no longer nearly as amazed by the experience of staring out the window why hurtling through the air at 500 miles/hour in a pressurized tube. And, as such, IFE systems are necessary to distract us from that reality.

A main purpose of [conventional in-flight entertainment (IFE)] systems is to distract the passenger from the actual flight. …[W]hile in the early days of flight passengers were fascinated by the fact that they were travelling through the air and were able to observe earth through the cabin windows from a bird’s perspective, today’s passengers are typically very distracted from such actual flight experiences and, instead, are invited by the IFE to enjoy entertainment that is typically not related to any flight experience.

This proposed solution allows a traveler to access information about their surroundings through a variety of automated means.

[A] passenger may demand information about things or objects he sees through the aircraft cabin window in a very easy, intuitive, and interactive manner. Thereby, the passenger’s flight experience may be significantly improved.

Where it gets a tiny bit creepy to me is in that the system is designed to include a “passenger monitoring assembly” which can do things like track where the traveler is pointing or even where their eyes are focused. Information about what they’re looking or pointing at would automatically be transferred to the display unit. So the plane will be watching you watching the world go by.

[0056] For example, if an aircraft flies over Paris and a passenger observes the Eiffel tower longer than, for example, a specific time period or points with his finger to the Eiffel tower, the information visualization assembly 5 recognizes that the passenger is specifically interested in this city or specifically in this monument and may provide additional information about the city, such as its population, weather, temperature, sites to be seen, etc., or specific information about the Eiffel tower such as its height, age, architect, etc.

The system could also overlay road maps or star charts or even information about other planes passing by, as appropriate.

[0058] At night time, an overlay of star constellations and planets or even visible satellites may be displayed by the display assembly and upon detecting specific interest of the passenger, names of stars, planets or constellations and further information about these objects may be displayed.

And, of course, there is always the marketing aspect of such an overlay.

[0059] In another embodiment, fixed or moving images may be displayed on the display assembly 3 as a type of “screen saver” for example for passenger marketing of entertainment. For example, airline logos or moving fish in an aquarium may be displayed.

Or the ability to offer an electrochromatic window shade, similar to what the 787 Dreamliner offers

[0060] Furthermore, in order to darken the cabin window 106 to a certain degree, the display assembly 3 and its screen 9 may be controlled to display a complete dark static image in order to thereby provide a level of window shading.

Definitely an interesting concept, though I’m not sure how comforting it would be to see fish swimming outside my airplane window.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

6 Comments

  1. Anybody can file a patent application for anything, but I sure hope this patent isn’t granted. Not exactly a novel invention.

    1. Agreed that anyone can file. And there are plenty filed which never get to market or even into real development. I have no idea if this will do either.

      But I disagree that this concept is not innovative or “new” in the context of where patents are traditionally granted. I don’t think you would find anything resembling “prior art” to suggest this one is DOA.

  2. Here is a picture of the Eiffel Tower at 35,000 ft:

    o

    If they would mount some cameras you could zoom and control that might be exciting for a few minutes.

  3. Leaving aside any inferences to be drawn from the date of the article, there are possibilities here.

    For instance if the window notices the passenger’s eyes following the movements of a particular fight attendant it could provide additional information such as marital status, sexual preference, and even phone number.

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