As Rockwell Collins announces its 1,000th Venue installation, EVA talks to Mathieu Noël, Bombardier’s Director Product Strategy, Industrial Design & Sales Engineering, to find out how it fits into the wider Global cabin experience
On 9 October, the Monday before NBAA-BACE officially opened its doors to visitors, Rockwell Collins revealed the completion of its 1,000th Venue installation. The high-definition inflight entertainment and cabin management system (IFE/CMS) debuted in 2007 and now features on a wide variety of aircraft, from turboprops to large VIP jets. The Venue experience varies from installation to installation as Taylor Prosba, Director, Business Jet Cabin Solutions for Rockwell Collins, explains.
“Venue configurations aren’t based on aircraft type, but rather on the solutions our customers want. Customisable Venue features include the graphical user interface, integrated entertainment source control and display monitors, Airshow moving map, architectural integration with multiple technologies, and cabin environment controls and fault reporting, including lighting and audio systems.
“We configure the controls according to the airplane’s cabin layout. Each cabin configuration is different and every customer is different, and it doesn’t matter if you’re on a BBJ or CJ4, Venue can be configured to meet all your cabin control needs. We not only have galley control panels, but seat controls, where different roles for various features can be accessed. For instance, during your aircraft system definition with our Programs team, your cabin can be configured to have VIP and Standard roles at different seats.
“Venue’s switches also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Our high-end programmable switch panel uniquely complements a cabin’s elegant design, while our Actuator Type (or A-type) switches enable simple Read-Table-Call functionality. And we’re extending the use of passenger carry-on or cabin-located PEDs to use our Cabin Remote application, available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for download. It provides cabin and environmental control on your personal device, recognising the specific aircraft layout and features, and ensuring the remote is specific to that aircraft while you’re on it.”
Aside from its multiple installations across the industry, Venue is also available as a line fit on Bombardier’s Globals, where customers could be forgiven for thinking the system is Bombardier’s own, thanks to a bespoke experience. “Globals coming off the line today have a user interface unique to Bombardier,” Prosba says. “Passengers also have access to Bombardier’s cabin control application on their personal devices, enabling interaction with cabin entertainment sources and environmental functions through the Venue cabin management system.”
Describing the Global cabin management experience, Mathieu Noël, Bombardier’s Director Product Strategy, Industrial Design & Sales Engineering, reckons: “With the Global 5000 and 6000 we’ve created something much closer to what a passenger experiences at home. We want looking at a monitor on the aircraft to be the same as watching the TV at home and we want it to be an entertainment experience. The big difference to home is that the system also needs to control the cabin – lights, temperature, sound and window shades, for example.
“And it needs to do all this in an intuitive, elegant, superfast way. We worked with Rockwell Collins to create a customised app. We identified the functions passengers used most often and made them available at all times, rather than burying them in a menu. We made it very easy, because it could be that the passenger knows the aircraft very well, but also that it’s a charter flight and the aircraft is unfamiliar.
“We’re all used to very intuitive devices that you just power on and find your way around very quickly. You don’t have to go and read a manual, and that’s what we set out to create.” In fact, Bombardier succeeded not only in creating an optimised graphical interface, it also made it look very much its own: “We used a Bombardier font and Bombardier colours, with a dark background on the homepage because when the cabin is dark we didn’t want it to be too bright. The first thing you notice is multiple presets. They’re Bombardier exclusive and control functions our customers use regularly.” Multitasking and flexibility lay at the heart of the Global experience. There’s an array of functionality on display, including Airshow controls that allow users to project and control moving maps on their personal devices and on cabin displays. Cabin lighting is accessible at the tap of a ‘button’, again with dramatically simple graphics enabling control across the cabin. And should passengers decide to sleep, a single tap dims the lights and closes the window shades.
“Another feature passengers want to access rapidly and frequently is time remaining to destination, so we have it instantly accessible on personal devices, without disrupting entertainment on the cabin monitors. The cabin attendant has the same interface via a screen in the galley, giving them access to yet another important feature, the ability to mute the cabin very quickly should someone receive a phone call, for example.
“Beyond the presets you can dig deeper into the cabin control features, with more and individual options for lighting, windows and so on. Then there’s a menu for media and entertainment, controlling video and audio content. It’s pretty much like home, where you select the source and then use the content. It could be something on a phone, connected to the aircraft by Bluetooth, or a device connected via HDMI in the media bay at the front of the jet, or on the Blu-ray player. The system allows you to select the source and where you want the content displayed. And if your Apple TV content is showing on the forward monitor, you can have your PlayStation running on the aft screen simultaneously.”
Noël’s reference to the media bay brings to mind a stowage area cluttered with primer-painted structure, equipped with avionics racks and perhaps accessed by an engineer via a hatch in the cockpit floor. The reality, on a Global 6000, is found behind a neat, anonymous, barely noticeable door in the wall, aft of the crew rest area. Inside there’s a lined, cooled bay, large enough to contain a selection of devices. Its back wall mounts a set of connections and looks exactly as the back of a TV appears, its familiarity and simplicity revealing how easy it is to connect into the Global’s cabin management system and how much it has in common with the home experience.
“We have Ka-band available on the Global too, providing for internet connectivity fast enough to stream multiple HD streams. Gamers can network in real time with players on the ground and we’ve had customers hold a video conference forward, while others are watching Netflix or playing online games in the back.”
Venue’s near-term future includes 4K displays which, Taylor Prosba says, will be available as part of the system next year. “The challenge is not so much the display, but the fact that 4K media is limited right now. We’ve also seen an uptick in its use with PEDs and other products for streaming, and we support this market demand via our Stage content service. Stage offers wireless content streaming and a management tool to customise each operator’s content offerings easily and remotely via a cloud-based repository of content. Next year, Stage will also be wired for playback on bulkhead and galley 4K monitors controlled by Venue.
“Our philosophy is focused on maintaining a cabin management and entertainment backbone to allow for simple integration with new technology. Our customers want their lives in the air to be seamless with their lives on the ground, while our Venue roadmap carries all the products that enable passengers to manage their cabins and enjoy their infotainment. It includes 4K monitors, Bluetooth receiving and pairing, larger displays (galley and bulkhead), voice commands and the Stage wireless streaming and content service. We’re also exploring ways to increase our full cabin product and service portfolio for business and private aircraft with Rockwell Collins’ Information Management Services and Interior Systems businesses.
“Finally, with DirecTV transitioning its SD satellite to HD, we’re investing and preparing our Tailwind 500/550 systems with upgrade paths to pull in the HD signals, so CONUS programming continues for those aircraft using Satellite DBS TV systems.”
According to Mathieu Noël, Bombardier’s Global experience already goes beyond entertainment and cabin control: “We find some passengers bringing their own devices on board and really getting involved in the system, while others leave it to the crew to ensure the content or application they want is available; then there are charter operators who decide what experience they’ll offer.
“We’ve come to realise that it’s very difficult in aviation to compete with consumer electronics. If we locked Apple TV into our aircraft for example, it would quickly be obsolete because products change every six months. We can’t keep up with that because aviation has such tight certification rules, so instead we’ve decided to step away from offering an integrated entertainment solution in favour of inputs and the flexibility for passengers to bring their own devices.”