The digital transformation is a pervasive phenomenon that is also affecting the aeronautics industry. The spread of Industry 4.0 technologies and digitalisation of onboard systems and equipment are enabling new methods of design that combine Artificial Intelligence (AI) with big data, management systems, simulators and increasingly advanced man-machine interfaces.
Some of these technical solutions are based on new materials or new applications of existing materials aimed at improving comfort in the cabin, improving the aircraft’s resilience under stress and the ability to repair itself. Together with new materials, new aerodynamic solutions have been introduced, ranging from the study of noise reduction to efficient fuel consumption. Working together, these innovations not only improve the aircraft’s safety and efficiency in flight, but significantly reduce its environmental impact.
In the areas of unmanned aircraft, airborne urban mobility and hybrid/electric propulsion systems, the focus is on development of new solutions for electrification and automation of flight. There are studies into the use of AI applied to flight and mission control, and use of complex communication and navigation systems, with technologies impacting the entire lifecycle of aeronautical products (from digitalisation of design to production, testing, certification and virtual training).
There is also strong interest in the study of ‘morphing’ technology, which integrates aerodynamics, active controls and the aeroelastic behaviour of the aircraft to bring benefits and improve performance with reduced aerodynamic resistance, greater efficiency, lower structural weight and reduced production costs.
Aeronautical platforms are witnessing growing collaboration between manned and unmanned craft, integrating information from different systems (ADS-B, ACAS and ATC) included in innovative man-machine interfaces to offer pilots complete support services. This includes a complete picture of the current status of the mission, the results of commands sent by the pilot, and monitoring of the pilot’s own status. All these technologies must be safely integrated and managed.