A three-year project co-initiated by Etihad Airways Engineering and Boeing aims to make an aircraft cabin smarter by networking its components—seats, galleys, lavatories and baggage bins.

Dubbed iCabin, the research and development effort is gathering five German companies—Bühler Motor, Diehl Aviation (just renamed from Diehl Aerosystems), Jeppesen, KID Systeme and Zodiac Aerospace (which has a cabin equipment factory in Germany) as partners.

Etihad Airways Engineering, Boeing, the Baden Württemberg Cooperative State University and the Hamburg University of Technology are associated partners.

The project has gained support from the German government, which has granted €3.9 million ($4.9 million).

“The cabin so far has been intelligent ... in parts,” a KID Systeme representative summarizes. The Airbus subsidiary specializes in in-seat power, onboard connectivity and wireless content service. It will create the architecture of the iCabin network.

The main expectation is maintenance savings. “To dispatch an aircraft, I have to send 14 cabin mechanics to check every seat,” an Etihad Airways Engineering executive said.

The addition of sensors would help know a recline actuator or a seat-back display is not working. One of the participants, Bühler Motor, is active in “intelligent actuation and comfort systems” for electromechanical seats. “You want to know the seat may fail before it fails,” a Bühler Motor expert said.

In other benefits, the integration of a new cabin system via a STC would be swifter. The sensors and accompanying network would save a lot of testing time. That phase currently accounts for 30% of the time spent working on an STC.

Etihad is targeting 2020-2022 to have an intelligent cabin as a demonstrator on one of its Boeing aircraft. Data will be transmitted to the cabin management system and then to the ground, in flight. The iCabin group will thus have defined a standard for wireless internet-of-things communications inside a cabin.

Thierry Dubois, thierry.dubois@aviationweek.com