ON THE CUTTING EDGE:
How Cloud and Edge Computing Are Changing the Avionics Game
Cloud technology allows people to house files and computing power in massive server farms, which they can access in real time over a network connection from different locations.
Now, have you ever tried explaining that to a tech-averse parent or luddite neighbor?
No matter how impressive the tech specs or how elaborate the cloud solution is, you’re going to put your audience to sleep. The reason for that is the same reason it’s futile for information technology providers to sell clients on the inner workings of cloud solutions: They just want it done and don’t care much about the details.
What they do care about, however, is their buying experience: How easy it is to implement, is it secured, and how it will enable and transform their digital experiences.
Due to the bespoke nature of most avionics solutions, it’s not always possible to keep things so simple. But with the help of technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, and edge computing, the industry can create a seamless experience on par with those at Amazon, Salesforce, Tesla, and Netflix; that is, a cloud-based solution where the customer and end user see only the benefits and none of the back end.
Why airlines should care about the cloud
The cloud is one of the most advantageous innovations in our industry because of its ability to corral data from multiple sources into one location and analyze it in bulk.
Airlines shouldn’t have to care about that, according to Venkat Eswara, Director, Software Product Line Management and Product Marketing at Panasonic Avionics. What they should care about is how to use that data’s stories to set themselves apart.
“The biggest problem in the airline industry is differentiation,” says Eswara. “Most passengers see everything as the same. Airlines can only differentiate with good customer experience.”
In the ongoing and ever-escalating pursuit of customer satisfaction, airlines now need to offer personalized experiences before, during, and after the flight. They also need to keep their passengers connected and well-served by the flight crew.
In addition to the in-cabin experience, the airlines also need to worry about maintenance. They must be able to anticipate mechanical issues, run diagnostics, and reduce downtime as much as possible.
These challenges are why data is so important. Data created from passenger purchases, crew actions, and maintenance equipment can help improve the experience for all of the above—but only if it’s harnessed correctly. Cloud computing enables this optimization.
“If an airline wants to know everything that happened in the last 18 months for all flights between Chicago and Hong Kong,” Eswara explains, “the cloud can provide a single source of truth.”
“Airlines shouldn't have to care about the cloud. What they should care about is how to use that data's stories to set themselves apart.” - Venkat Eswara, Director, Software Product Line Management and Product Marketing at Panasonic Avionics.
What’s the difference between cloud and edge computing?
Still, Eswara reminds us that cloud technology is by no means perfect. “Cloud has been around for many decades. But in recent years, the amount of data we use skyrocketed. We went from gigabytes to petabytes (ie. one million gigabytes). For the end customer, the experience began to deteriorate.”
Edge computing was conceived to take some of the processing burden off of the cloud (the core offsite servers) and have it take place on, or near, the devices themselves. Unfortunately, this isn’t always practical. The equipment, security, and certifications needed to set up complete edge computing on the aircraft makes it an option that only a few vendors can master.
On the other hand, a complete cloud solution is also difficult to pull off. Most airlines will not want to take on the costs and complications of real-time data transmission for every flight—regardless of the insights the data might reveal. So, what’s the right approach?
Choosing between cloud and edge solutions
By combining the efficiency of edge with the power and flexibility of the cloud, many prominent businesses on the ground were able to create seamless, personalized experiences.
Netflix, for example, relies upon a combination of local nodes and centralized servers to leverage valuable viewer data without sacrificing streaming performance.
At Tesla, writes Forbes, “machine learning in the cloud takes care of educating the entire fleet, while at an individual car level, edge computing decides what action the car needs to take right now.”
On an aircraft, these kinds of experiences were previously thought to be impossible—but new technology, pioneered by Panasonic Avionics, is changing that for good.
“New services can be enabled because the technology was proven in retail, consumer, and enterprise,” says Eswara, “Now they’re possible in this vertical.”
With cloud/edge capabilities, airlines can record diagnostic data during the flight, and upon landing, offload it into the cloud. Conversely, personalization data (like content preferences or buying patterns) from the cloud can also be pushed to the craft when it’s on the ground, and then periodically refreshed via a standard satellite connection when the craft is in flight.
Ultimately, airlines and their passengers both want the same things: Simple solutions catered to their needs and preferences. By putting cloud and edge computing into effect, the avionics industry can make everyone happy. Airlines can save time and money with readily available insights, while passengers have more enjoyable flights with personalized experiences. The best part is, neither has to give a moment’s thought to how it all works—because it just does.