Rapid HMI prototyping using virtual instrument panel saves project costs, time and aids documentation

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




(2004), "Rapid HMI prototyping using virtual instrument panel saves project costs, time and aids documentation", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 76 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/aeat.2004.12776ead.008



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Rapid HMI prototyping using virtual instrument panel saves project costs, time and aids documentation

Rapid HMI prototyping using virtual instrument panel saves project costs, time and aids documentation

Keywords: Rapid prototyping, Helicopters

According to Zytronic by using its Zytouch touchscreen technology, Westland Helicopters Ltd can quickly reconfigure an entire helicopter instrument panel layout during customer trials. The aircraft's human machine interface can now reportedly be refined during a single meeting with customer aircrews and specifiers, shrinking the time taken to make any adjustments from days or weeks to as little as 1 h.

A single touchscreen measuring 1.5 m × 0.6 m simulates the entire helicopter control panel. By combining Zytronic's touchscreen technology with its own virtual instrument panel software, Westland can now resite instruments and bezel keys by simple drag and drop operations, and present an interactive panel for aircrews to “fly” during simulations. This allows the customers to gain a better understanding of the human machine interface at an earlier stage in the programme. It also allows Westland to implement changes more cost-efficiently, and simplifies documentation. After reviewing an initial configuration with the aircrew, Westland engineers can reconfigure the panel to incorporate customer requests without making mechanical or wiring changes that can be expensive and time-consuming.

Visiting experts from customers such as the Ministry of Defence can trial the instrument panel, and have their changes implemented in as little as 1h and then immediately re-evaluate the layout. “We can drag, drop and resize instruments and controls in any position”, explained Paul Brinson, Assistant Chief Engineer – Technology and Simulation, of Westland Helicopters Ltd. “No other currently available technology can give us this flexibility. We have been developing virtual panel software for some time, but Zytouch now allows pilots to interact with those instruments as soon as they have been redrawn” (Plate 1).

Brinson added that after Westland decided that touchscreen was the way to go, it was Zytronic that devised the solution. Embedding the optimal film technology in the touchscreen glass was especially critical to the project. Zytronic evaluated potential films and completed the first iteration of the panel within 6 months of Westland's first enquiry. Westland has bought three panels, and is about to order further three panels.

Plate 1 Westland cuts helicopter development costs with Zytouch

The new system makes it easier to agree the human machine interface (HMI) with the customer, a process normally achieved through complex paperwork and mainly static representations of instrument behaviour. “Documentation can ran to hundreds of pages, to adequately describe the appearance of the instrument panel”, explained Brinson. “The touchscreen approach can articulate concepts more clearly and is more tangible, thereby making it easier to agree formats with the customer.”

Following extremely positive customer reaction, Westland is now seeking to increase the reuse of software modules created for this rapid prototyping activity, to further streamline design, configuration and build of instrument panels across all helicopter models and all customers.

Details available from: Zytronic. Tel: +44 (0) 191 414 5511; Fax:+44 (0) 191 414 0545; E-mail: mark.cambridge@zytronic.co.uk and Westland Helicopters Ltd. Tel: +44 (0)1935 703991; Fax: +44 (0)1935 703752; E-mail: BRINSONP@whl.co.uk

Related articles