Airbus envisions the future of air travel: high-definition flying

Airbus envisions the future of flying: a recyclable concept cabin that offers panoramic views, interactive zones and an intelligent passenger interface.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The list of gripes about air travel is long indeed, but set aside the food, luggage policies and fees, there's not much that's changed: get in a metal cucumber with wings, arrive at destination.

Airbus is looking to the future, and it's bright. (Yuk, yuk.) Literally: the company gave us and attendees of the "Le Bourget" Paris Airshow a peek today into its vision for air travel in 2050, and it involves reducing the body of the plane to something a little less, well, submarine-like.

[Photo Gallery: Airbus' future of aviation 2050]

It's "a whole new flying experience inspired by nature," the company claims.

The Concept Cabin experience includes:

  • Personalized zones that replace traditional cabin classes, with videoconferencing, interactive video games and a "vitalizing seat" to watch the planet spread out beneath your feet. Resolution? Life. (And to think I was going to settle for Bloomberg BusinessWeek.)
  • More personalized zone perks: vitamin and antioxidant enriched air, mood lighting, aromatherapy and acupressure treatments. (Here's hoping we don't hit turbulence.)
  • A bionic aircraft structure that mimics the efficiency of bird bone. Translation: light and strong.
  • A biopolymer membrane controls natural light, humidity and temperature, "eliminating the need for windows." Including the floor of the aircraft.
  • An integrated "neural network" to serve as an intelligent interface between passenger and plane, responding to passenger needs. Example: seats that change to your body shape.
  • 3D printing: some cabin elements could be created using additive layer manufacturing.
  • An "interactive zone" in the center of the cabin that uses pop-up projections for holographic gaming or virtual changing rooms. (Let's hope there's an interactive curtain, too.)
  • Energy harvesting will be a part of the cabin environment, such as a heat-collecting seat or solar panels to fuel cabin appliances.
  • A "smart tech zone."

The vision is, well, rich:

Perhaps the next generation of cruise ships will be in the sky, not the sea, with packages to suit everyone – complete with swimming pools, spas and even golf courses. And perhaps you won't even have to pay for your ticket, with the operators making their money from casino takings, restaurants and other attractions.

The report itself is chock full of interesting ideas: using formation flying to reduce fuel burn and emissions; using fuel cells to power cabin systems; seating passengers in "cabin pods" so that an arriving plane can just collect them and go; the list goes on.

Despite all the nature talk, the Concept Cabin will be 100 percent recyclable and employ self-cleaning materials made from sustainable plant fibers; it's the result of Airbus focusing more than 90 percent of its $2.9 billion annual R&D spend on environmental benefits.

Airbus executive Charles Champion says the concept is the illustration of "engineer's dreams."

But will it have more legroom?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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