Article from DLRmagazine 167
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT
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.
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.
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."