Android Powered Flight Entertainment Systems
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the most-anticipated wide-bodied jet of all time: Boeing has taken a total of 859 orders since 2004, and so far it has only delivered 14 planes. By end of 2013 it intends to ramp up production to 10 units per month, but even then, most customers still have a wait time of between 5 and 10 years. This isn’t a story about the Dreamliner’s composite body, or the fact that it uses 20% less fuel than a 767, though: Inside all 859 of those planes, each and every seat will be outfitted with an Android-powered entertainment system.
Boeing is offering two flavors of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) solutions: The Thales TopSeries Avant, and the Panasonic eX3. Other than it being Android-based, we don’t have any details on the eX3 — but, rather conveniently, two days ago, Qatar Airways showed off its recently-delivered 787 Dreamliner at the Farnborough International Airshow in the UK — and inside there are 254 seats, all equipped with the Thales IEFC.
There are two classes in the Qatar Airways 787, economy and business, and they’re outfitted with 17-inch and 10-inch touchscreen IEFCs respectively. The IEFCs are completely integrated — all of the hardware is stored in the seat-back unit (there’s no under-seat box). And the hardware spec… well, this is the bit that blew my mind. Each IEFC has an STMicro dual-core ARM processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 256GB (!) SSD. There’s also a main server, which features 32 x86 cores (so, quad-CPU Xeon or Opteron), 128GB of RAM, and a further 4TB of SSD storage. Optionally, the Avant can be equipped with what looks like a pull-out Android handset (a Touch Passenger Media Unit) — presumably for running Android apps that aren’t suited to the large screen.
Software-wise, we don’t know much beyond the fact that both the Thales and Panasonic units will run a customized version of Android. Given the time frame, we’re probably talking about Android 2.3 or 3.0 — but looking at the photo above (larger), which looks nothing like Android except for the three buttons in the bottom right corner, Thales is probably just using Android because a) it’s free, and b) it has a large software ecosystem that passengers can leverage.