10. May 2021
DLRmagazine 167 Cover story

The sky is the lim­it

New concept for a modular aircraft cabin
New con­cept for a mod­u­lar air­craft cab­in
Image 1/4, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

New concept for a modular aircraft cabin

At the DLR In­sti­tute of Sys­tem Ar­chi­tec­tures in Aero­nau­tics in Ham­burg-Finken­werder, a team of in­dus­tri­al de­sign­ers is in­ves­ti­gat­ing how peo­ple will want to trav­el in the fu­ture, how their trav­el be­haviour might change as a re­sult of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, and what im­pact this will have on the de­sign of air­craft. Dig­i­tal sketch­es graph­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent the idea pro­cess and can be eas­i­ly shared elec­tron­i­cal­ly.
Digital sketch of the interior of an aircraft
Dig­i­tal sketch of the in­te­ri­or of an air­craft
Image 2/4, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Digital sketch of the interior of an aircraft

Dig­i­tal sketch­es graph­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent the idea pro­cess and can be eas­i­ly shared elec­tron­i­cal­ly. In this de­sign, par­ti­tions be­tween the seats pro­vide more pri­va­cy. A new way of stow­ing lug­gage could speed up the board­ing pro­cess and thus short­en queues.
Personas – Cabin design
Per­sonas – Cab­in de­sign
Image 3/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Personas – Cabin design

Fu­ture us­er groups in the trav­el sec­tor.
Personas – Cabin design
Per­sonas – Cab­in de­sign
Image 4/4, Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Personas – Cabin design

Fu­ture us­er groups in the trav­el sec­tor.

How passengers are already helping to shape the hygienic, comfortable and safe cabins of the future.

Article from DLRmagazine 167


Future aircraft must be as climate friendly and quiet as possible – without compromising comfort. New cabin concepts could help meet these requirements. At the DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics in Hamburg-Finkenwerder, a team of industrial designers is investigating how people will want to travel in the future, how their travel behaviour might change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what impact this will have on the design of aircraft. The team is developing new concepts for a modular aircraft cabin that is adapted to people's needs and, to this end, is also involving passengers in the design process.

To function reliably in the air and on the ground, aircraft must satisfy strict safety requirements. This is an absolute prerequisite and remains the most important factor today. Up until now, industrial designers have taken the entire aircraft as their starting point when designing passenger cabins. The Innovative Digital Cabin Design (InDiCaD) project is creating a technical basis for directly linking the design and layout of cabin concepts digitally. 'Dreaming up the future!' is the motto of Fabian Reimer, Ivana Moerland-Masic and Thomas-Matthias Bock from the DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics. "Our project focuses on people and how their travel behaviour and needs are changing as a result of current trends," explains engineer and cabin designer Fabian Reimer. First, the team creates concepts and designs for the passenger area. These are adapted to new aircraft and then to an overall digital aircraft concept. Technical components such as air conditioning and cabin ventilation can be considered directly during the development process.

"In the project we have the freedom – which is somewhat rare in aircraft construction – to design the cabin based on the users them selves. Our first step is putting ourselves in passengers' shoes, so that we understand their needs and requirements,” explains industrial designer Ivana Moerland-Masic. “Identifying the user group when designing a coffee machine or a designer chair is fairly easy, but air transport includes far more types of users." There are the passengers, pilots and flight attendants, of course, but this can be extended out to include the airlines, certification authorities, suppliers, maintenance staff and service providers. The aim is to make them happy with the final aircraft cabin. This is no mean feat for the designers. "Our goal with the InDiCaD project is to create completely virtual preliminary cabin designs. User and target groups evaluate initial solutions. These are then adapted afterwards. As such, our product testing approach is far better optimised than conventional methods," says Moerland Masic, describing the advantages of her work.

Future travel trends

The travel industry was a lucrative business up until the Coronavirus pandemic. Forecasts now show that air traffic is only expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2023. Even before the pandemic, opinion researchers, travel providers and design agencies, such as Seymourpowell, were looking at how people might travel on holiday or on business trips in future. "We looked at different travel trends and included possible effects of the current pandemic situation on the aviation of the future," says Reimer, setting out the team’s way of working. "However, gauging trends is always a bit like looking into a crystal ball; they are always liable to change at short notice due to external factors."

With rising global prosperity, travel activity is increasing all over the world. It is expected that travellers will seek out individual experiences that are far removed from mass tourism. This is all about ‘going against the flow’ (‘We are travellers, not tourists’) and discovering new and unspoilt places. Depending on the generation, moral and political ideas may also play a stronger role. Sustainable travel and ecotourism are moving into focus. Such trips often last longer, as travellers are keen to learn more about a country and its people.

From the Best Agers to the Millennials

In addition to the general trends, the design team is looking at more finely nuanced preferences that span different age groups. The Best Ager group encompasses people aged 65 and over. This group is considered to be among the megatrends and is a major influencing factor in future aircraft design. Compared with today’s senior citizens, it is expected that their behaviour and needs will be significantly different in 2030 or 2050. The focus will be on newly freed-up time. People in this age group will be fitter and more mobile than they are today and will be more likely to choose aircraft as their means of transport.

In addition, Generation Y or Millennials (born between the early 1980s and late 1990s) will have an influence. This generation is considered the most important to the future of business travel. The design team is working on the assumption that we will see a sharp increase in the number of female business travellers, the Nomadic Business Woman. Nowadays, areas designated for business tend to have a somewhat stark and masculine appearance. The needs of female travellers are set to play a greater role in cabin design going forward. Neutral shapes and colour schemes, more privacy and more spacious lavatory areas are just some of the considerations here.

The travel sector is changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DLR has defined the trend of the Post-pandemic Traveller, which serves as an estimated point of reference for passengers whose needs have changed as a result of the pandemic. Due to the high risk of infection and the widespread integration of disinfection measures, protective masks, and an increased awareness of hygiene and social distancing, the designers expect these aspects to have an ongoing impact on the travel sector.

Digital sketch
Digital sketch
The 3D model is created on the basis of the digital sketch. Seat distances and proportions in the cabin can be visualised in this way. It serves as the basis for testing in virtual reality, in which the concept becomes tangible and experienceable for the target groups.

Empathy towards passengers

Auf Basis dieser und weiterer Trends sowie Interviews mit verschiedenen Nutzergruppen hat das Team sogenannte Personas definiert. Dies sind Menschentypen, die stellvertretend für eine Gruppe stehen. „Eine Flugbegleiterin gab uns detaillierte Einblicke in den Alltag des Kabinenpersonals. Sie erzählte, welche Herausforderungen es mit sich bringt, wenn Menschen unterschiedlicher Kulturen mit dem gleichen Flugzeug fliegen“, berichtet Ingenieur und Designer Reimer. Für Menschen mit Behinderung ist es noch immer schwierig, sich im Flugzeug zu bewegen. „Ein Rollstuhlfahrer erzählte, dass es für ihn nahezu unmöglich ist, die Waschräume zu nutzen.“

Modular, people-oriented cabin concepts

What all of the personas have in common is that they want to be able to travel more conveniently and in greater comfort. They want their journey to their destination to be safe and pleasant, too. Key require ments include more space in the seating area, aisle and lavatories. With this in mind, the design team sketched out numerous ideas.

One of these was dubbed the 'suspended compartment seat' and consists of a solid, ceiling-high shell that affords greater privacy within the aircraft. Passengers can sit opposite one another, as they would on a train, and those travelling together can be seated as a group. Integrated partitions also increase protection against infection, thus providing a greater sense of safety. Passengers can even create sleeping areas by folding down the seats – an option that is currently only available in a few business class or first-class cabins. Luggage compart ments beneath the seats would also free up more space overhead, enabling faster boarding. Passengers would no longer have to queue in the aisle due to the time-consuming task of stowing away luggage in overhead bins.

Suspended compartment seat
Suspended compartment seat
Space for medical emergencies and for treating sick passengers – but the couch can also be used for relaxation

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team even designed a concept for a medical room to care for sick passengers. It can also be flexibly adapted and used as a relaxation area with entertainment. The controls are designed to best meet ergonomic requirements. "We placed the medical equipment on the first-aid couch so that the controls are all quickly and easily accessible in the event of an emergency," Reimer explains.

Next, based on the selected designs, the team generated a 3D model, which can be viewed using a virtual reality (VR) headset. In the past, designers generally used sketches, 3D graphics or elaborate prototypes to discuss ideas for developing cabins. "In our experience, virtual reality is the best way of presenting our designs to users. They can move around the cabin and really immerse themselves within the new setting as a three-dimensional space," explains Moerland-Masic. Testing using virtual reality techniques is also quicker and more cost-effective than building large and expensive prototypes, and optimisation processes run much faster. A test campaign is planned for 2022 as part of the DLR project InDiCaD, in which several test persons from each persona group will experience and evaluate the new designs. Since VR headsets can be worn at home, they make it possible to exchange information with colleagues and participants when everyone is working from home.

The team has the freedom to develop creative ideas without financial constraints. But despite all this, air travel should remain affordable. Follow-up projects with external partners, including airlines, are intended to determine how such conceptual designs can be made a reality. Moerland-Masic believes that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change our lives to become more sustainable. "At this point, it's difficult to predict where this journey is going to take us. But one thing is certain – we are at a crossroads and have the option of heading down a new path, towards more innovation, better environ mental protection and the possibility of giving travellers a better experience."

This article is taken from DLRmagazine 167. Subscribe to the DLRmagazine and receive it at your doorstep free of charge. All the issues of the DLRmagazine can be found here.

Team from the DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics

Fabian Reimer has worked at DLR since 2019. He studied aircraft manufacturing with specialisations in cabin and cabin design at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. He worked in the Cabin and Cargo of the Future Department at Airbus during his studies. He considers aircraft to be among the most exciting and complex products around. He likes independent travel, loves the freedom of movement offered by trains, and is excited to be helping to design future aircraft. He is also keen on good design and art outside work – he paints with acrylics on canvas in his spare time.

Ivana Moerland-Masic grew up watching Star Trek and has been dreaming of designing technology to suit human needs ever since she was a teenager. After studying industrial design at Delft University of Technology, she joined DLR in Hamburg in 2016. She wants to make air travel more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. She and her family like travelling independently and taking the time to get to know other countries in detail. When it comes to business travel, she prefers travelling by plane, as it gets her back home to her family sooner.

Thomas-Matthias Bock studied industrial design and worked in creative cabin design at Airbus in Toulouse for 35 years. He has been involved in the design of almost every aircraft model to be introduced over the last few decades. In the course of his work, he has travelled around the globe, from economy to first class – he has expe rienced them all. He has created design concepts for more than 50 airlines. Colours and textile design that hint at other countries and the flair of foreign airplane designs always put him in the mood for new destinations. DLR in Hamburg has been benefitting from his many years of experience since 2019.

  • Julia Heil
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
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  • Jana Hoidis
    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Bre­men, Bre­mer­haven, Ham­burg and Old­en­burg
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    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
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