Reaching new heights

By the mid-1970s even an average transport aeroplane could have well over 100 analog and mechanical gauges, indicators and controls vying for cockpit space and pilot attention.

Cockpit Display Systems (CDS)

That must have made flying challenging enough but continuous advances in flight, digital and computing technology have turned aircraft into ever more complex, safety critical environments.

Today, pilot and crew have to seamlessly interact with numerous on-board systems to quickly and easily assimilate and act upon multiple streams of information coming at them from around the aircraft. This led to the advent of the ‘Glass Cockpit’ where the many mechanical and analog instruments of yesteryear have been replaced by electronic, digital flight instrument displays driven by flight management systems.

In modern aircraft the Cockpit Display Systems (CDS) provide the Human Machine Interface (HMI) between the aircrew and the Glass Cockpit, to enable them to interact effectively with the aircraft’s avionics.

Complexity is the mother of invention

As aircraft control became more complex, developing and maintaining a safety-critical HMI to meet the needs of multiple systems, from numerous suppliers, became increasingly difficult and costly.  In the late ’90s a standard and flexible architecture for the creation of safety critical HMI interacting with numerous systems was developed - ARINC Specification 661: Cockpit Display System Interfaces to User Systems. ARINC 661 for short. This enabled individual equipment manufacturers to specify their user-interface requirements for display on a generic Cockpit Display Server.

First adopted in 2001 for the development of the CDS for Airbus A380, ARINC 661 has been regularly updated ever since and has been included in various programmes from Boeing’s 787 to AgustaWestland’s Merlin Helicopter upgrade. ARINC 661 is the technology of choice for transport, business/regional and military aircraft, enabling multiple systems to interact with a cost effective safety critical HMI.  It is also beginning to be applied in other non-avionic environments where there is a requirement for multiple systems to interact with a safety critical HMI.

This technology enables a seamless glass cockpit with common user-interface experiences across multiple systems with features to support intelligent HMI interaction reducing user workload and stress.  In order to realise the benefits of ARINC 661 requires all other aircraft systems with an HMI display to ‘speak ARINC 661’.

ARINC 661 - the principle and practice

Prior to ARINC 661 changes to aircraft systems required corresponding changes to the CDS, triggering a costly re-certification of the HMI. The ARINC 661 standard has greatly de-risked cockpit displays and eliminated the costly multiple CDS certification cycles, but at the expense of pushing up the complexity and development costs of new systems that have to communicate with those displays. In addition, numerous technical pitfalls are unavoidable without the right, dedicated tools.

TP Group - well versed in ARINC 661

TP Group has been involved in ARINC 661 HMI development and system integration since 2005 and are active members of the international ARINC 661 Committee since 2012.

We’ve been instrumental in supporting further development and modernisation of the standard (including current initiatives for the ‘cockpit of the future’), and defined an ARINC 661 development environment to support application interaction with safety critical displays. These have made ARINC 661 easier to adopt by minimising the costs associated with software integration and development process changes.

The two commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) tools we developed for this purpose between 2010 and 2015 have helped to reduce HMI development effort by 50%. This saved our customers considerable time and cost, whether they are working on new or legacy systems.

Because these innovative tools play an integral role in such a safety critical environment they had to demonstrate considerable capability before license sales could be achieved. We overcame this challenge by applying ISO9001 to our agile software development methodology.

Partnership takes tools global

Our innovations and product architecture have been highly successful, with the result that TP Group’s solutions are still utilised within core designs today.

Our tool-suite provided specialist environments for the development of systems that talk to cockpit displays, while our unique approach reduced the reliance on ARINC 661 expertise, accelerated development time, enabled working prototypes to be seen early and maximised the re-use of existing system software and development models.

Ultimately, the TP Group solution greatly reduces development time and risk, thus enabling other equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Boeing and Airbus, to take greater control of the CDS development process and their supplier input.