Editor's Log

March 2015 Issue

Open Source?

Unless you've been living under a rock the last few years, you're probably familiar with the proliferation of tablet computers in the cockpit. The hardware's display quality and processing capabilities, combined with innovative software, have all but eliminated paper charts and getting lost.

And it gets better. As the FAA's ADS-B network stands up, anyone with an appropriate receiver can obtain its free traffic and weather information services, TIS-B and FIS-B, available via ADS-B IN. Mix in some more software, and we can put the results on a tabletís moving map, which often is a better display platform than whatís in the panel.

Thanks to ADS-B INís popularity on tablet computers, manufacturers of certified ADS-B OUT avionics are climbing aboard by adding wireless capabilities to their products. Since portable devices likely will bring advanced hardware to the cockpit sooner than waiting on lengthy avionics development and certification-related delays, adding wireless and other support for them is a smart move by avionics manufacturers. Itís not a bad deal for operators, either, who get greater flexibility in enhancing their situational awareness. But there might be a wee bit of a long-range problem.

Much of the hardware on the market today for receiving ADS-B IN dataówhether a portable, non-approved unit or a certified and installed oneóis designed to work with specific hardware and/or application combinations. Similarly, certain applications only display ADS-B IN data when using a specified external receiver: If thereís a specific cockpit application you want to use, but you donít like the hardware it runs on, tough luck. And if your favorite app publisher goes out of business, you could be stuck buying a new ADS-B receiver because the app you move to wonít support your old one.

I totally understand the marketing advantage this lack of commonality affords hardware makers and app developers. But especially when considering installed and certified avionics, itís in an operatorís best interest to have options when it comes to displaying ADS-B data.

One way around this would be for manufacturers and developers to publish the relevant software standards, allowing anyone to develop solutions for their products. An app would seamlessly work across multiple platforms and combinations because it would ďknowĒ the appropriate protocol. Many players in the avionics market would welcome that ability, but a few others are convinced itís in their best interests to keep their protocols proprietary. Another solution would be to develop an open-source protocol for implementation throughout the industry.

As these apps become more and more ubiquitous in the cockpit, and as more products designed for approved installation are developed to support them, itís time for standardization within this market.