One aspect of my latest visit to Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse that I had not yet found the time to write about is the vision the European aircraft manufacturer has of the future of aviation. I am not referring to the next iteration of the A320 or even the state-of-the-art A350, but to how air travel is going to feel like decades into the future.
Just as it was difficult to predict the emergence of the internet as a world-chaging phenomenon only 25 years ago, it is also impossible to predict with total accuracy how technology advances are going to shape the way we fly. However, aircraft have very long development cycles and manufacturers like Airbus are already thinking decades ahead, even if not all the technologies that they are envisaging are currently available.
Airbus experts flew in from Hamburg to give us a briefing on a very interesting approach to aircraft technology innovation: biomimicry, that is, looking at nature and imitating the solutions provided my millions of years of evolution.
Besides aero-dynamical improvements brought about by advances in the science of materials, perhaps the most eye-catching aspects of Airbus' 2050 envisioned aircrat are its U-shaped twin tail and the rear fuselage-embedded engines, passengers ought to benefit a lot from the implementation of bionic solutions to cabin interiors.
Forget about the glorified metal tube that are the commercial aircraft of today, Airbus concept plane features a bionic structure that looks a bit like a sort of membrane, made of light but resistant biopolymers, and with plenty of "gaps" that would provide 360 dregree views of the outside to passengers. This membrane would also be able to regulate the amount of light that comes in and the level of humidity.
Smart seats will be another key element of the flight experience, not only adapting to the passengers body shape by means of an "intelligent" skin that gathers information about the weight and shape of the person seating on them, but also incorporating self-cleaning and self-repairing materials inspired by similar mechanisms found in some plant's leaves. Energy-harvesting seats might also power electronic devices on board.
In fact when looking at the innovative seat concept "Morph" presented British firm Seymourpowell you might tempted to think that smart seats might come an aircraft near you sooner than you think:
But it is not all about the hardware, as some say "software is eating the World", and aircraft are no exception. Imagine a cabin with a "neural network", a sort of operating system, that could recognize each passenger and cater for its specific needs. Add to that social elements and augmented reality, both already being rolled out. And what about an holographic in-flight entertainment system?
And just before the landing, get a photon shower to get rid of jet-lag...but with all these extra features, who will feel tired after a flight!