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INESC TEC technology in the skies

The European project DAPHNE, in the area of optical fibre communication systems for civil aircraft, which involved INESC TEC’s Telecommunications and Multimedia Unit (UTM), has reached a conclusion in February.

26th March 2013


The European project DAPHNE, in the area of optical fibre communication systems for civil aircraft, which involved INESC TEC’s Telecommunications and Multimedia Unit (UTM), has reached a conclusion in February. In the future, airlines and passengers will be benefiting from a more modern communication network in aircrafts. UTM’s contribution has impressed the project’s foreign partners and gave proof of the Unit’s increasing competences in optical and microwave communications.

Optical fibre communication system will modernise aviation

Project DAPHNE started in 2009 with over 15 partners, from universities to research institutes and companies, gathering to introduce the most advanced optical fibre communication network technologies in the future aviation fleets.


The increasing complexity of systems aboard aircrafts has led to a significant increase in costs associated to aircrafts and their weight. Copper cables have become obsolete and are no longer the best option for highly complex systems, particularly when it comes to aerospace systems where size, weight and electromagnetic compatibility are three important requirements.

Replacing copper systems with equivalent optical fibre systems was, therefore, the solution found to modernise aviation. Optical fibre technology is advantageous both for commercial and military aviation as it is lighter, smaller and highly immune to interferences, comparatively to copper. With the communication system resulting from project DAPHNE, the entire communication infrastructure of the aircrafts will be optimised, guaranteeing significant gains in terms of cable installation and maintenance.


Airplane passengers will also benefit from technology

Other than gradually replacing copper systems with optical fibre ones, project DAPHNE will remodel the entire communication infrastructure in aviation, taking into consideration the global communication needs of all systems in the aircrafts. “The greatest innovation in project DAPHNE was the fact that we defined an integrated photonic network to be used in aircrafts which is capable of supporting multiple networks of data on a physically lighter and more modular environment. As a result, it is possible to achieve a better performance in terms of connectivity, flexibility and flight costs comparatively to the current data infrastructure, characterised by a great diversity of networks and systems”, explains Henrique Salgado, researcher at UTM and project manager representing INESC TEC.

The benefits of the project are not only for Airlines, but also for passengers. Taking advantage of the high bandwidth of fibre, passengers will benefit from an improved flight experience through the introduction of advanced forms of entertainment, video-on-demand, systems or high speed connectivity for WLAN and mobile phones, which will allow them, for instance, to watch HD films or access the Internet using mobile devices.


The "Airbus Operations" and "AgustaWestland" aircraft manufacturers have already acknowledged the advantages of this technology and may even be the first to integrate the new system in their fleets. However, the process may take some time as incorporating new technology must, for safety reasons, comply with very restrict procedures. “By identifying possible technology based on optical fibre and pointing modular and integrated solutions, this work has given the first steps towards that objective. However, it is still necessary to conclude, for instance, the process of accepting standards”, Henrique Salgado states.

Cutting-edge technology by UTM impressed partners

As one of the partners, INESC TEC was responsible for assessing the radio-fibre technology to support communication systems in aircrafts and the supply of wireless and entertainment services using single or multimode fibre. Multimode fibres are particularly appealing for aviation systems because they are larger and their mechanical tolerance is higher, as well as their resistance to vibration. An innovative system was proposed based on photon counting that monitors failures in the optical network in real time in order to assure the levels of safety required by aircrafts.


The project focused on an area where INESC TEC has been playing an increasingly important role and the Unit’s contribution  was also relevant because it made it possible “to broaden the number of contacts with foreign partners that were impressed by the cutting-edge technology developed by INESC TEC in optical and microwave communication”, the UTM researcher highlights. The avionics industry will be the main target of the solution developed by INESC TEC, but the radio-fibre technology can also be used in infrastructures supporting wireless networks.

The technical coordinator of project DAPHNE, Nick Brownjohn, confirmed the Unit’s skills. “I believe that the work developed by INESC TEC as part of DAPHNE was innovative and characterised by high quality. I was particularly pleased to hear that the departments of Airbus in Toulouse and Hamburg were interested in the technology, and so I hope that this relationship continues long after the project is concluded”, he states.


Synergy of competences leads to gains


For almost four years, a group of UTM researchers, set up by Henrique Salgado, Luís Pessoa, João Oliveira, Diogo Coelho and Jorge Castro, attended several project meetings. In 2011, INESC TEC hosted a meeting with the partners to discuss the evolution of the project thus far. The project’s closing meeting took place last month at the headquarters of Airbus in Hamburg, Germany, where INESC TEC presented a solution to provide mobile Internet services to passengers using radio transmission technology over fibre.

Other than demonstrations, the meeting that welcomed over 15 project members was also an opportunity to analyse the work developed and its repercussion in the future. “The project made it possible for commercial and military aircraft manufacturers to contact with the telecommunications industry, as well as with universities and science and technology institutes, which together identified new ways to overcome obstacles related to the implementation of optical fibre technology, currently used in land telecommunications in “aggressive” environments , particularly in aeronautics”, Henrique Salgado states.

At the closing meeting it also became clear that the work in this area will continue. “There is still plenty to do in terms of disseminating and defining standards and procedures to install and maintain optical fibres, although this work has already given a significant step towards that”, the researcher concludes.

BIP, March 2013


Photo credits: cover - Airbus; photo 2 - flickr