By making the most of Distributed Modular Electronics in next-generation avionics, researchers with the EU-funded ASHLEY project are establishing Europe's position as a global leader in aviation innovation.
Today’s aircraft depend on complex avionics. For everything from flight control to flight management, navigation and systems control, the jet you recently flew on was largely operated with the use of dedicated hardware and software called avionics.
As aircraft become increasingly complex, the number of functions performed by avionics continues to increase – meaning the architecture has to grow in both size and complexity. This in turn results in an increase to the cost of the overall avionics platform and a decrease in the efficiency of airline maintenance operations.
To help reign in these challenges, the concept of Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) was introduced. With IMA, a single platform can be used to host many different avionics-related functions coming from many different suppliers. Because of their ability to streamline multi-faceted avionics systems, the majority of today’s aircraft are IMA-equipped.
As aircraft continue to advance, there is a need for a more advanced, second-generation IMA (IMA2G). To develop this more competitive, IMA-based avionics platform that is appropriate for use across multiple aircraft types, the European aerospace industry initiated the IMA2G paradigm via the EU-funded SCARLETT project.
SCARLETT was able to validate numerous IMA2G concepts, the most important being the use of Distributed Modular Electronics (DME) as an architectural concept in which input/output (I/O) resources are separated from the processing resources. “DME was a breakthrough and the foundation from which IMA2G is built on,” says SCARLETT project coordinator Didier Hainaut. “To make the most of DME’s potential, we established the EU-funded ASHLEY project to carry out research on top of the existing state-of-the-art previously developed in the SCARLETT project.”
ASHLEY focuses on the areas identified as providing the greatest chance for innovations. They include:
Although ongoing, the ASHLEY project has already led to several important developments. For example, the ASHLEY platform introduces an avionics power line communications solution that means the power distribution system can be used for both power and data. This opens the door for reduced weight, volume and complexity in aircraft wiring and lower installation and maintenance costs.
To facilitate the exchange of data on board an aircraft, the project developed a secured multi-domain data distribution service that “increases both cross-functions and cross-domain interoperability”, says ASHLEY researcher Jean-Arnaud Causse. “As a result, one can avoid the multiplication of physical databases, complex maintenance operations and the need for a large amount of memory space.”
Other key innovations from the project include passive optical sensing and Power-by-Light technologies, smart interfaces to avionics sensors and actuators, DME solutions for time-critical high speed functions and I/O intensive functions, and secured DME solutions for the operator domain. Most of ASHLEY’s innovations have already been validated on a large-scale aircraft demonstrator.
Thanks to ASHLEY, European aviation is set to benefit from a common, secured, multi-domain avionics platform solution. “By understanding research and technological development, with a close global market perspective, ASHLEY is contributing to the establishment of European leadership in the aviation sector,” concludes ASHLEY project coordinator Thierry Maret.
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