Why the Aviation Sector Needs Edge Computing Solutions
In contrast to conventional cloud computing approaches, which rely on relays of information to and from remote data centres and processing infrastructure, edge computing or edge cloud uses localised networks to bring data storage and processing closer to the devices and applications that are generating the information.
This computing approach allows devices within an edge cloud zone to react more quickly to changing conditions. In effect, an edge computing model is well suited to applications that require split-second timing for their routine operations, or devices and systems that work in conditions and environments that are physically hard to reach, or highly sensitive.
For aviation, edge computing can be a key contributor to positively disruptive change, as part of an ecosystem that brings together edge cloud, mobile, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other platform technologies, to produce an agile and distributed infrastructure. This environment can then power a range of innovative solutions and applications, while providing troubleshooting capacity and the ability to make near real-time decisions due to the reduced latency made possible by bringing computation and data storage closer to the source.
At the operational level, edge cloud deployments can enable aviation stakeholders to harness the power of localised information gathering and processing to perform the kind of lightweight analytics that inform quick operational decision-making and rapid response. This applies across a range of applications.
Edge Computing in Aviation Manufacture and Supply Chain Management
With edge cloud solutions, the aviation sector is now able to transition from a linear supply model (design, source, make, deliver) to an interconnected digital supply network, or DSN. In a DSN, digital modelling technologies and edge computation allow stakeholders to create a virtual mirror of the physical world, which can adapt rapidly to changes in product designs and production levels, to produce a more agile value chain. With a typical aircraft consisting of six million parts or more, this approach facilitates input from a range of ecosystem partners and contributors to the manufacturing process.
At the production level, aviation manufacturers are using robotics, digital twin technologies, and additive manufacturing (3D printing) to increase the pace of fabrication, develop sophisticated simulation and testing scenarios, and facilitate data-driven decision-making on the factory floor. Edge computing, conventional cloud, mobile, IoT sensor and reporting platforms are providing manufacturers with greater visibility and monitoring over production lines and the overall supply chain.
How Edge Cloud Facilitates Proactive Maintenance
Edge cloud networks can provide continuous high-bandwidth connectivity between aircraft and the internet. This enables the transmission of data even in mid-air, with edge computing providing a filter for the most relevant information. Servers on the ground can then selectively pull data from the edge servers on the aircraft for more detailed analysis. Real-time analysis of operational data enables aerospace engineers to spot potential problems and advise immediate remedial actions.
How Edge Computing Enables Predictive Maintenance
Edge computing is a networking philosophy focused on bringing computing as close to the source of data as possible in order to reduce latency and bandwidth use. These systems enable airlines to predict component and other failures prior to their occurrence and empower organisations to take the necessary steps to address these faults. Systems can generate automatic notifications from the plane to enable ground crews to prepare for repairs at the next landing point. With access to detailed information (including video and other multimedia input), maintenance teams can more easily manage their parts and resources.
Edge Cloud and Mobility Infrastructure
Edge computing also holds potential for enabling aviation operators to develop a mobility infrastructure that incorporates smart connected vehicles within a larger transportation network. For this purpose, the edge makes it possible to process crucial information close to its source and use the cloud to support back-end analysis.
Potential applications include improved baggage handling with automated tractors and conveyors, strategies to optimise fuel consumption, and the development of aircraft that can automatically correct their course in response to predictions of bad weather.
Edge Computing for Passenger-Facing Applications
Due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the general economic slowdown, the aviation sector has also been suffering a sharp decline in business. Enhancing the “customer experience” can be the key to economic recovery. Here, too, edge computing has a number of applications to contribute, in ensuring that passengers have a stress-free and enjoyable journey. These include:
Reducing Flight Delays
By using edge cloud applications to manage the movement and activity of people and parts, airlines can improve the maintenance routines of their aircraft – one of the major causes of flight delays. For example, using a network that combines edge computing with mobile and IoT technologies, it’s possible to diagnose airline hardware using sensors, alert the nearest maintenance team based on their mobile location and closeness to the plane, and issue a real-time update to the departure timetable (if one is necessary). Data from the monitoring can also be used in predicting future maintenance requirements.
In-Flight Safety Monitoring
On board, fitting airline seats with IoT sensors linked to an in-flight edge computing network enables flight attendants to monitor the seatbelt and safety status of individual passengers to ensure they are adhering to safety recommendations from the flight crew. Monitoring occurs via tablets issued to each flight attendant, reducing their need to physically walk up and down the aisles.
Many airlines currently provide online portals or mobile apps that enable passengers to log their preferences with regard to food, drink, and in-flight entertainment – both before a trip, and based on information gleaned from their previous journeys. Integrating this data with seat sensors, tablet technology, and an edge cloud network creates the possibility for airlines to deliver intensely personalised services to individual passengers.
Another emerging technology also gaining traction in the aviation sector is biometrics – particularly those based on facial recognition. The individual passenger’s face effectively becomes their digital “passport”. Biometric systems are currently in place at a number of airports worldwide, providing access control and identity management for passengers from check-in to their final destination. The systems provide fast and contact-free movement for passengers at a time when health, safety, and social distancing still remain in the public consciousness.
Edge computing and mobile are facilitating the deployment of biometric systems, typically allowing airports to clip a minimal set of kiosks and scanners to their existing infrastructure, and to create a local network for data processing and digital identity management.
Ancillary Revenue Streams
There is potential for other stakeholders in the air transport ecosystem to benefit from edge cloud, as well. For example, hospitality providers may be willing to pay a premium for being allowed to make personal recommendations to on-board passengers promoting their hotel or resort chain as a final destination. Concessionaires and retailers could also target promotions via in-flight edge networks, also contributing to the revenue stream.
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