Method for controlling an in-flight entertainment system
A method for controlling an in-flight entertainment (IFE) system using network protocols, such as TCP/IP, HTTP, or FTP. Control of a plurality of functions, including in-seat and broadcast audio and video, overhead reading light control, and flight attendant call, are implemented using a network client, a network server, and a network server program, each communicating with network protocols. The network client may be visible or invisible to a user of the in-flight entertainment system, depending on whether a web browser or a virtual web browser is used as a network client. The software for each line replaceable unit (LRU) may be designed, redesigned, or tested independently from other components within the IFE system. Particular functions of the IFE system can be made available only to particular parts of the IFE system, allowing different levels of access to the IFE system for different passenger classes.
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This patent application is a continuation of copending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/145,464, filed May 14, 2002, now allowed, herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The invention generally relates to computer networks, and more particularly relates to a system and method for controlling and operating an in-flight entertainment system using network protocols.BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Most commercial aircraft today are equipped with an IFE system. Typically, an IFE system includes a plurality of computers, which are connected to provide various functions. These computers include, for example, audio/video head-end equipment, area distribution boxes, passenger service systems (PSS), and seat electronic boxes. In the modular environment of an aircraft, each of these computers is referred to as a line replaceable unit (“LRU”) since most are “line fit” on an assembly line when an aircraft is built and tested. At least some of the LRUs are connected directly to passenger seats, either individually or by seat groups. These LRUs are the interface between passengers on an aircraft and the IFE system, and provide access to a plurality of functions. A more sophisticated, multi-functional IFE system may include close to a thousand separate connected computers working together to perform the plurality of functions of the IFE system.
The LRUs within a conventional IFE system typically include relatively simple electronics and microprocessors for performing system functions. The channel and volume of the audio provided to a seat are conventionally controlled by a seat electronics box serving a group of seats, the seat electronics box including a microprocessor and signal conditioning electronics to handle audio/video input signal. In some known systems, the seat electronics box can be overridden by the cabin announcement system to allow for flight crew to interrupt audio or video with safety announcements for the passengers. IFE systems must meet strict requirements set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for avoiding interference with safety critical flight electronics in the cockpit and elsewhere on board. In addition, the aircraft industry has set strict requirements on IFE systems, for example, on the power use, bandwidth, and weight of an IFE system. An IFE system provider is severely restricted in choosing particular hardware and software components for these reasons.
Methods and systems for controlling an IFE system have typically been implemented with software instructions executed in a “master-slave” architecture. Specific functions for the master-slave system have been implemented with proprietary, application specific, and custom software. Electronics used for more complex functions of the IFE system have typically included computers with microprocessors and memory. Custom software has been required for each master and slave computer, and for each function to be performed. Each piece of custom software must be integrated and tested within the system separately. For even the simplest function to be performed, integration and testing is labor intensive and error-prone.
Custom software has conventionally been used, for example, to implement a cabin management terminal, which interacts with other hardware such as tape players, digital media players, or game consoles. Each of the interfaces between the management terminal and the other devices within the IFE system has been programmed and tested separately. For each piece of hardware implemented within the IFE system, one interface (for example, the interface between a master computer and a particular type of slave computer) must be defined, and two software programs must be developed and tested (one for the master and one for the slave). If additions or changes to the system are later desired, such changes are time consuming and require a high degree of familiarity with the details of the original system design.
Attempts have been made to speed up design, testing, and maintenance of a conventional IFE system by combining software components that otherwise would have been separate, or by using software components designed for one device with a different device. Unfortunately, such efforts have resulted in a larger number of system errors and software bugs, and those software bugs have been more difficult to fix since the effects of changes to the software are more difficult to predict when the software runs on multiple types of hardware within the system.
Furthermore, due to the custom nature of the software in conventional IFE systems, as newer models of a system are developed, it becomes difficult for a system provider to support its legacy models. Engineers who designed older models may have left the system provider, and new engineers may not have the time or ability to learn how the older system was implemented. Diagnosing and fixing bugs in a system with a proprietary hardware and software architecture requires time and effort simply to learn how the system works. Maintenance resources are often wasted teaching new engineers how a highly proprietary system works.
A need, therefore, exists for an IFE system that has an architecture that is simple to implement, modify, diagnose, more modular, and easier to interconnect.SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention provides an improved system and method for controlling an IFE system that overcomes the foregoing problems by using a network client, such as a web browser or a terminal emulation program, and a network server program, such as a CGI script running on a network server, such as a web server, each located on one or more LRUs, to perform a function of the IFE system. The network client and server communicate using one or more network protocols, such as Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), or File Transfer Protocol (FTP).
According to an aspect of the invention, functions of the IFE system are performed after a network server request, for example, a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) call in the HTTP format, is sent from a web browser to a web server located on either the same or a different LRU. The web server runs a network server program, such as a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) script, using information in the network server request. The functions controlled include in-seat audio and video, flight attendant call, and overhead light switching. An important advantage of the present invention is that the addition or modification of functions in the IFE system is greatly simplified; each function may be implemented independently as a separate web site on the web server.
In an embodiment, the present invention provides a network protocol enabled IFE system. A user interface is provided within the system for enabling a user of the IFE system to generate an input signal. The user interface is connected to one or more LRUs within the system. A processor is located within an LRU, and is used within the system for processing the input signal in order to generate a control activation signal. The control activation signal is received by a network client, which is, in an embodiment, a web browser, and the network client generates a network server request from the control activation signal. A network server program, which is, in an embodiment, a CGI script running on a web server, such as an APACHE TOMCAT server, receives the network server request and controls a function of the IFE system by executing one or more instructions on one or more LRUs in the IFE system. The network server program may optionally return a network server response to the network client when the function is performed. Depending on whether the network client has a full display (i.e., if the network client is a web browser rather than a virtual web browser), the network server response may also be processed for display and displayed.
In different embodiments of the present invention, the functions of the IFE system controlled may be either simple or complex. A complex function of the IFE system is distribution of in-seat audio and video. In some embodiments or modes of operation, the in-seat audio and video distribution is interactive, or is controlled by a crew member through another user interface connected to the system, such as a management terminal. Other complex functions of the IFE system include accessing web pages on the Internet, sending and receiving electronic mail, playing computer games alone or with other users of the system, and checking flight information, such as estimated time of arrival, airspeed, and location. Simpler functions of the IFE system include functions traditionally associated with the passenger service system (PSS), such as flight attendant call buttons, or overhead light buttons. Other simple functions can include seat adjustment, and climate control. As will be recognized by those of ordinary skill in the art, other functions, both simple and complex, are possible.
An important advantage of the present invention is that a user interface within the IFE system does not need to have a display, and a user of the system of the present invention may generate an input signal for a network client without using a display. A user interface may be any mechanical device that can be used to produce an input signal for the system, such as a switch, button, or knob; in this embodiment, the user interface may not have a display. This advantage is accomplished through the use of a virtual web browser. As used hereinafter in a description of the present invention, a “virtual web browser” is a web browser that is capable of receiving a control activation and of producing a network server request, such as a URL call, is capable of receiving a network server response, and is capable of parsing the network server response, which might be a web page in HTML format, into data that is useful to software and hardware components on an LRU that is running the web browser; the virtual web browser does not, however, produce a graphical user interface (GUI), and a GUI is not necessary for a virtual web browser to carry out the steps in the method of the present invention associated with a network client. A user interface connected to a virtual web browser may provide a minimal display, such as a Light Emitting Diode (LED), or no display at all.
In another embodiment, the user interface may include a display and a keyboard. A laptop with a network client can serve as a user interface to the IFE system. (This embodiment is particularly advantageous for purposes of development, testing, and maintenance of an IFE system.) In other embodiments, the user interface could be a touch-screen display. In all of these embodiments, a network client, such as a typical web browser, can be used for performing the steps of the method associated with a network client. As will be recognized by those of ordinary skill in the art, a plurality of different kinds of user interfaces may be used to generate an input signal for the system.
In yet another embodiment of the present invention, communications between the network client and the network server follow TCP/IP protocols, such as the HTTP protocol. In other embodiments, communications within the system might follow a different network protocol, such as FTP, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), TELNET, or Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). As will be recognized by those of ordinary skill in the art, secure network protocols, such as Secure Sockets Shell (SSH) or Secure HTTP (HTTPS) could also be used within the system of the present invention.
The network client and the network server need not be located physically on the same LRU within the system. In one embodiment, the network client and the network server are both loaded onto hardware on the same LRU. In another embodiment, the network client program loaded on a first LRU communicates (following a network protocol) with the network server on a second LRU within the system. It is also possible, within the system of the present invention, for several network server programs to run simultaneously on the same network server, communicating with more than one network client at the same time. The number of network server programs that may run simultaneously is limited primarily by the network server and by the hardware resources of the LRU running the network server. Another important advantage of the present invention is that a remote LRU with greater hardware resources may be selected for having a network server and a network server program, as opposed to an LRU with fewer hardware resources that is local to the LRU on which instructions must be executed in order for a function of the IFE system to be controlled. The IFE system of the present invention is more flexible and modular as a result.
The present invention also provides a method for performing a function of an IFE system using network protocols. The method begins with generating an input signal with a user interface. As described above, the user interface that is used to generate the input signal can be a simple switch, a keyboard, a touch-screen, a laptop, or any other suitable input device.
The input signal generated by the user with the user interface is processed by a processor, producing a control activation signal. The processing in this step is also called key processing, and allows for a simple analog or digital signal (whatever signal is generated by the user interface in the first step) to be translated into a control activation signal, which is useful to a network client program. In an embodiment, the processing in this step is performed by a combination of hardware and software (such as a device driver) on a first LRU within the IFE system. The control activation signal produced is specific to a particular input generated with the user interface.
The method allows a function of the IFE system to be controlled. Using the control activation signal, the network client generates a network server request. The network server request is sent to a network server. Upon receipt of the network server request, the network server runs a network server program, which executes one or more instructions on one or more LRUs within the IFE system associated with controlling a particular function of the IFE system. The function controlled depends on the form of the network server request, which depends on the form of the control activation signal, which depends on the form of the input signal. Optionally, the network server program may also generate a network client response with information associated with the function controlled. Other optional additional steps that may be implemented in an embodiment of the present invention include sending the network client response to the network client, processing the network client response for display, and displaying of the processed network client response.
As described above, the method of the present invention may be any of a plurality of network protocols, such as HTTP, FTP, SMTP, or TELNET. In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the HTTP protocol is used, and the network server request is generated in HTTP format. In other embodiments of the present invention, the network server request, the network client response, or both can be provided in a different format, such as the FTP format. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that other network protocols may be used for communication between LRUs within the IFE system.
An advantage of the present invention is that it avoids a need for complex software communication interfaces within an IFE system, and the time and effort required for making additions or changes to the IFE system is thereby reduced. In particular, through the use of standard software technology, interface definitions, and protocols, development is considerably simplified. Advantageously, the extensive use of TCP/IP to communicate among system components allows for each function of the IFE system to be designed and tested independently before being integrated with the system. As a result, each piece of hardware within the IFE system can be tested separately, improving the reliability of the system by designing and testing each network server program separately.
Another advantage of the present invention is that it reduces the hardware needed in the aircraft cabin, saving weight. For example, by using network commands to control the PSS components, physical switches are not necessary for the reading light and attendant call functions. All of the functions of the IFE system might be performed by a user interface with a keyboard and display or touch-screen accessible to a passenger, a crew member, or both.
According to an embodiment of the present invention, the network server program executes instructions on LRUs within the IFE system in order to control functions, and optionally provides a network server response to the network client. The network server program is implemented, in an embodiment, with a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) script. As is known to those of skill in the art, CGI scripts can be written using a variety of different programming languages, such as Practical Extraction and Reporting Language (PERL) scripts, Java Scripts, or with C, C++, or Java. In the presently preferred embodiment of the invention, the network client program is a web browser that accesses the CGI script by sending a network server request in the form of an HTTP formatted URL call to the LRU on which the network server program (in this case, a CGI script) is loaded. As is known to those of ordinary skill in the art, other programs written in other programming languages might be used to implement the various high-level and low-level functions of the IFE system. It is not necessary to the present invention that CGI scripts be used to implement a network server program. A network server program might also be implemented with Java Servelets (JSPs), or following the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Furthermore, the network client may be used by the network server program for executing particular instructions for controlling some functions of the IFE system. In such embodiments, the network client may be a Java Applet or Java Script.
An obstacle to would-be developers of a network protocol enabled IFE system lies in the adaptation of normal web browsers and web servers to the special functions of an IFE system. Conventionally, communication between a web browser and a web server is initiated by a user, and the web browser merely displays the words or pictures associated with a particular HTTP address. The web server responds to HTTP requests triggered by the user when the user clicks on a link. Without user input, the web server and web browser typically do not communicate with each other. In an IFE system, however, it is not always desirable for users to be required to generate an input signal before the function is performed.
In yet another embodiment, the present invention overcomes this obstacle through the implementation of a limited function “virtual” web browser. In embodiments of the present invention in which the user interface does not include a display, the network client program is a virtual web browser. The virtual web browser performs the same functions of parsing Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and generating URL calls, but does not display a web page to a user, as a traditional web browser does. In some embodiments, the network client may be a virtual web browser with a minimal display (such as a light emitting diode, array of light emitting diodes, or small liquid crystal display) rather than no display at all. A virtual web browser has the same ability of a conventional web browser to parse HTML or Extensible Markup Language (XML) files sent to it by a web server, and is generally substantially similar to a normal web browser except in those respects already described.
Within a network protocol enabled IFE system, new functions are implemented by engineers as independent web pages with separate program files. This greatly reduces the risk of unintended interactions and side effects, which have plagued conventional IFE systems. In addition, in an embodiment, system functions are only accessed upon network server requests from the network client, and such functions may be suspended or terminated when the function is completed. This conserves the resources of the IFE system, allowing new functions to be introduced with less impact on the system as a whole. The flexibility and modularity of a network protocol enabled IFE system presents a great advantage over conventional methods and systems.
Another notable advantage of the system and method of the present invention is that typical software engineers, who are already familiar with the network protocols, are able to diagnose and fix problems within the system more quickly. The learning curve associated with the custom software of a traditional IFE system is eliminated. This avoids wasted time and effort associated with development, testing, and maintenance. System testing is performed with the method described above using a laptop, desktop, or personal digital assistant (PDA) computer as a user interface to the IFE system under development. Each of the functions of the system is tested, for example, by making URL calls from a web browser running on the laptop, desktop, or PDA computer. The laptop runs the network client that is loaded onto computers within the IFE system; accordingly, the laptop, desktop, or PDA computer loaded with the network client program, such as a web browser, can access, exercise, and verify each of the functions of the IFE system. The method of the present invention advantageously eliminates a need to have the entire IFE system running in order to perform diagnostics.
The system and method of the present invention also allow for control of particular functions of the IFE system to be restricted to particular user interfaces. This presents an advantage in that the control of some functions of the IFE system may be made available only to particular users or groups of users. For example, in an embodiment, only user interfaces connected to LRUs in the first class section of the aircraft may be allowed Internet access through the IFE system.
The present invention makes significant use of web services for both passenger and cabin, maintenance and engineering crew usage. From a passenger's perspective, the web is either invisible, as when Passenger Control Units (PCUs) are used, or visible, as when Personal Digital Gateways (PDGs) are used. In the invisible case, button presses on the PCU are translated into control activation signals of invisible controls on an invisible web page by a virtual web browser. These control activation signals cause the appropriate HTTP commands to be emitted, which in turn involve appropriate network server activity. The network server program then causes the needed action to occur based on the specific PCU button originally pressed by the passenger (such as channel surfing, reading light activation, etc).
For PDGs, which incorporate a low resolution touch-screen, web pages are visible to the passenger and activation of on-screen controls causes similar HTTP commands to be emitted and acted on by the appropriate network server. Each page can link to other pages, each one generated by a network server appropriate to the particular function of the IFE system controlled. For example, a page showing available in-seat movies would come from a digital server unit, whereas a page for channel changing might be generated by the passenger's own seat electronics box.
For cabin, maintenance, and engineering crews, access to, and visibility of, the IFE system is through the management terminal (or alternately through a connected laptop when a management terminal is not present). The PC-based unit provides high-resolution touch-screen access to web browser-presented web pages that permit control of entertainment, maintenance and engineering functions, including control of entertainment services.
The foregoing and other objects, advantages, and features of the present invention will be apparent from the following detailed description and the accompanying drawings, in which:
While the present invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, certain preferred embodiments are shown by way of example in the drawings and will be described in detail herein. It should be understood, however, that the description is not intended to limit the invention to the particular forms described; to the contrary, the description is intended to cover all modifications, alternatives, and equivalents falling within the spirit and scope of the invention defined by the appended claims.
The system and method of the present invention allow for a more flexible and modular IFE system by using network protocols for communication between LRUs within the system. Using network protocols improves efficiency of development efforts by reducing the probability of unintended conflicts between software loaded onto the plurality of LRUs within the system, and allows for easier upgrades and maintenance of software currently loaded within an IFE system. Network protocols are used in controlling a plurality of functions that the IFE system is capable of performing.
Although the system of the present invention can be carried out with programs loaded onto any of the plurality of LRUs within the IFE system,
In one possible embodiment, the network client 400 and the network server 450 are located on the same LRU (LRU A 100 in the embodiment of the seat-level part of the IFE system shown in
Communication between the network client 400 and the network server 450 is carried out using network protocols, such as HTTP, FTP, or TELNET. In the presently preferred embodiment of the invention, the protocol used is HTTP. In this embodiment, the network client 400 is a web browser, implemented with a suitable programming language, such as C++, on an operating system compatible with the hardware on the LRU A 100, such as LINUX. The control activation signal supplied to the web browser results in a URL call to a network server 450, which, in an embodiment, is a web server, such as the APACHE TOMCAT web server. The network server program 500 is, in an embodiment, a CGI script loaded into memory on the hardware of an LRU A 100. The network server program 500 has control over the hardware resources of the IFE system 1000 that are necessary for performing a function of the IFE system 1000 associated with the LRU on which the network server program 500 is loaded. For example, if the function to be controlled is associated with an overhead reading light, then the network server program 500 is connected to a switch within an electronic circuit that controls the overhead light, and is capable of opening and closing the switch by executing instructions on the hardware of the LRU connected to the electronic circuit (which, in the embodiment of the present invention shown in
In the embodiment shown in
As described in the SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION section, an advantage of the present invention is that the network server 450 and the network server program 500 may be run on any LRU (with capable hardware resources) within the IFE system 1000 without changing the method of the present invention. This allows for hardware resources to be conserved or distributed in a way that improves the efficiency of the overall IFE system 1000. The system of the present invention is very flexible and modular, and parts of the system may be moved around to different LRUs in different embodiments. This is possible since the connectivity of the parts of the system stays relatively constant when network protocols are used for communication between LRUs within the system. In a second embodiment of the seat-level part of the system shown in
The optional display 650 shown in
A block diagram of the hardware components of an embodiment of an entire IFE system 1000 is shown in
The system 1000 is generally a local area network (LAN) comprising a plurality of computer components that communicate over a network data backbone 1500 and an entertainment broadcast or RF backbone 1600. The network data backbone 1500 preferably uses 100 base T Ethernet, and the broadcast RF backbone 1600 is preferably capable of carrying high-bandwidth RF transmissions containing video and audio signals.
Generally, the LRUs within the system 1000 include a management terminal 1100, an audio/video controller 2120, a digital server unit 2500, one or more area distribution boxes 2150 and a plurality of tapping units 2130 in communication over the data backbone 1500. Any of these LRUs may have hardware capable of running a network client 400, a network server 450, or both. The audio/video controller 2120, digital server unit 2500, and other auxiliary devices can provide audio and video signals over the RF broadcast backbone 1600 to the area distribution boxes 2150 or tapping units 2130. The area distribution box 2150 passes the signal to one or more seat electronics boxes (2160 in
In another embodiment of the present invention, a network server program, such as a CGI script, running on a network server on the management terminal is capable of controlling a function associated with an audio or video radio-frequency broadcast to passengers on the aircraft, an in-seat audio or video stream, interactive game playing, access to the Internet, an overhead reading light, a flight-attendant call system (including, for example, a display of passenger requests by seat), a climate adjustment system (including, for example, a thermostat connected to an air-conditioner), a surveillance system (including, for example, one or more security cameras and one or more displays attached thereto), a cabin audio or video announcement system, or a display (audio, video, or both) of passenger flight information.
The management terminal 1100 is connected, in an embodiment, to a 100 Base T Ethernet data network (heretofore “Ethernet”) 1500. The local area network (LAN) switch 2110 in
Area Distribution Box
The area distribution box 2150 is generally a local seat-level routing device. The area distribution box 2150 controls the distribution of signals on the network data backbone 1500 and the RF backbone 1600 to a group of the seat electronics boxes 2160 (
The hardware of the area distribution box 2150 includes one or more microprocessors with a memory, such as a flash memory, a network interface card, an RS485 interface, and radio frequency amplifiers. Additionally, in an embodiment, the area distribution box 2150 contains appropriate gain control circuitry for gain control of the RF distribution 1600. In an embodiment, the software running or stored on the area distribution box 2150 might include multiple software components, such as an operating system (e.g., LINUX), a web server (e.g., APACHE TOMCAT), TCP/IP, FTP client, FTP server, and ports or connectors for interfacing with the tapping unit(s) and CSS. An appropriate interface includes a serial port, such as RS485 interface, or a USB. As will be recognized by those of skill in the art, embodiments of the area distribution box 2150 are capable of running a network client 400, a network server 450, or both depending on the hardware resources available.
Audio Video Controller
The audio/video controller 2120 generally operates as an entertainment head-end controller. The audio/video controller 2120 communicates with a plurality of input signal devices, such as cameras, video players, and audio players. The audio/video controller 2120 is in communication with both the data backbone 1500 and the broadcast backbone 1600. The functions controlled by the audio/video controller 2120 include, for example, distributing audio and video content, controlling the tapping units 2130 and overhead display units 2140, and frequency modulation for various inputs such as video tape reproducer 2080 and audio reproducer unit 2090. In the embodiment of the invention shown in
Additionally, in an embodiment, the audio/video controller 2120 operates as a head-end controller of the passenger service system 2060 (PSS), which includes, for example, the public address system and warning indicators instructing passengers to fasten seat belts or not to smoke. Accordingly, the audio/video controller 2120 is connected to PSS related inputs such as the cockpit area microphone 2070, which can interrupt other signals over the RF backbone 1600 for crew announcements. By incorporating PSS control functions into the audio/video controller 2120, the need for a separate LRU for controlling the PSS functions is eliminated.
Furthermore, the audio/video controller 2120 operates the passenger flight information system (PFIS) 2100 as a point of access for system data, including data obtained from non-IFE system equipment, such as aircraft identification, current time, flight mode, flight number, latitude, longitude, and airspeed. To facilitate external communications, the audio/video controller 2120 is further in communication with a cabin telecom unit 2050 that can communicate with earth or satellite based communication stations through one or more satellite links 2020.
As would be recognized by those of skill in the art, embodiments of the audio/video controller 2120 are capable of running a network client 400, a network server 450, or both, depending on the hardware resources available. Any LRU with hardware capable of running a network client 400 or a network server 450 may be loaded with them, as necessary for controlling a function associated with the audio/video controller 2120 within the IFE system 1000.
The audio/video controller 2120 hardware includes a microprocessor, an Ethernet switch, telephony interface components, an Aeronautical Radio, Inc. (ARINC) interface, an RS485 interface, and audio modulators for the public address and audio/video content distribution. The audio/video controller 2120 contains various software components including, for example, an operating system such as LINUX, a web server such as APACHE TOMCAT, TCP/IP clients or servers such as FTP clients or servers, RS485 interfaces to the tapping units and CSS, and LAPD communications.
Digital Server Unit
The digital server unit 2500 provides analog and video outputs derived from digital content stored, for example, on a hard disk drive, and is constructed modularly with a well-defined external interface. A rack mount is provided with electrical and physical interfaces as specified in ARINC 600 (an aircraft manufacturer promulgated standard). The digital server unit 2500 obtains power, connects to external control interfaces, provides 6 base-band video outputs with 2 stereo audio outputs associated with each video output and 12 stereo outputs and 1 RF output that combines 3 RF inputs with 6 modulated video signals (including 12 stereo video-audio) and 12 stereo modulated audio outputs at this connector. Auxiliary front mounted connectors are also provided for diagnostic access and expansion of the storage sub system via a SCSI II interface.
The digital server unit 2500 provides video entertainment in a way similar to a videotape reproducer 2080 or audio tape reproducer 2090. Instead of videotape, video content is stored in compressed format, compliant with the Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) format (MPEG-1 or MPEG-2). The video data is stored in multiplexed format including video and between one and sixteen audio tracks in the MPEG-2 transport stream format. The audio content is stored, instead of with audio tape, on a hard disk in compressed format, compliant with the MPEG-3 (MP3) format. The high performance disk drive is accessed via a wide and fast SCSI interface by the CPU on the controller. The digital content is then streamed via TCP/IP to client platforms on circuit cards within the digital server unit 2500.
Two types of clients are implemented: video clients (two per circuit card) and audio clients (four per card). Each video client can generate one video output with two associated simultaneous stereo language tracks selected from up to sixteen language tracks multiplexed with the video. Each audio client can generate 3 or 4 audio outputs. The digital server unit 2500 contains three video client cards for a total of six video clients and six associated dual stereo video and audio/video outputs. Twelve of the audio outputs are general purpose in nature, while the 13th and 14th outputs are used to implement PRAM and BGM functions. As these two aircraft interfaces are generally monaural, MP3 programming for the 13th and 14th audio outputs is encoded and stored as monaural MP3, and only the left channel of the stereo decoder is connected to the appropriate aircraft public address system input.
The video clients are not only digital MPEG audio/video decoders, but are also general purpose PC compatible platforms, and may implement customized functions that are displayed as broadcast video channels through the broadcast backbone 1600. A typical example of this use of a video client is the implementation of a Passenger Flight Information System (PFIS) 2100.
As will be recognized by those of skill in the art, embodiments of the digital server unit 2500 are capable of running a network client 400, a network server 450, or both depending on the hardware resources available. In particular, as shown in
To communicate with people outside the aircraft, the IFE system 1000 includes an optional satellite link 2020 in
Generally, the tapping unit 2130 is an addressable device for tapping the broadcast signal and distributing selectable or predetermined portions of the signal to one or more display units. Accordingly, the tapping unit 2130 is connected directly to one or more overhead display units 2140 mounted for viewing by a single passenger or by a group of passengers. The overhead display unit 2140 may be mounted, for example, to a bulkhead or ceiling in an overhead position, in the back of a seat in front of a viewer, an adjustable mounting structure, or in any appropriate location. In an embodiment, the IFE system 1000 includes multiple tapping units 2130. The tapping unit functions to turn the display unit on or off, and to tune the tuner for audio or video channel selection. In an embodiment, the tapping unit 2130 is also used to report the status of the radio RF signal on the audio/video RF backbone 1600. In the embodiment shown in
Seat Electronics Box
As indicated in
and a network server 450 (in the form of a web server 5200). In other embodiments of the present invention, a different set of software components may be loaded onto the seat electronics box 2160, as will be recognized by those of skill in the art.
In view of the foregoing description of the hardware architecture of the network 1000, described now will be steps of how the system 1000 is capable of performing a function using network protocols for communication between a network client 400 and a network server 450 located on one or more LRUs within the system, the network server 450 being capable of running a network server program 500 for controlling a function of an IFE system by executing one or more instructions on one or more LRUs attached to the system.
It is very important to note that the specific functions carried out by a particular LRU within an IFE system may vary from embodiment to embodiment. An attempt has been made in the foregoing to describe how each of the LRUs in the IFE system 1000 may be used, in different embodiments, to control one or more functions associated with the IFE system 1000. It must be borne in mind, however, that as the hardware components of an IFE system are reconfigured and moved around within the system, that the functions controlled by a specific LRU will change, and that one of ordinary skill in the art would recognize how, given a specific set of hardware components, the software components necessary to the present invention should be implemented. The heart of the present invention is a system and method for using network protocols to enable control of a function associated with an IFE system, and this system and method remain the same from embodiment to embodiment, even as the LRUs used to control a particular function of the system vary.
A passenger on an aircraft with an IFE system 1000 generates an input signal for the system with a user interface 200, for example, a user interface as shown in the embodiment of
The user interface 200 includes, in the embodiment of
The user interface 200 shown in
With the embodiment shown in
An advantage of the present invention is that some functions of the IFE system 1000 may be restricted to a particular user or group of users on an aircraft. In the embodiment of the present invention shown in
As will be recognized by those of skill in the art, many functions of the IFE system 1000 may be enabled or disabled with software alone. However, as described in connection with the relative capabilities of smart video display units 2175 and video display units 2170, and with the relative capabilities of personal digital gateways 2230 and passenger control units 2220, some functions of the IFE system 1000 may be enabled or disabled simply by installing or removing particular hardware components from specific places within the IFE system 1000.
When a network server program 500 is run, an output of some kind may be generated in addition to the execution instructions for controlling a function of the IFE system 1000. In an embodiment of the present invention, the output is a network server response, such as those shown as 6300 and 6350 in
In the embodiment of the invention shown in
The embodiment of the invention shown in
The IFE system 1000, as shown and described in connection with
performing functions using network protocols, such as HTTP, FTP, or TELNET. A control flow diagram of an embodiment of the steps in a method of performing a function of the IFE system 1000 using network protocols is shown in
There are additional optional steps that may follow the performing of a function of the IFE system 1000 in step 6600. In some embodiments, such as the ones shown in
It should be understood that various changes and modifications to the presently preferred embodiments described herein would be apparent to those skilled in the art. Such changes and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention and without diminishing its attendant advantages.
1. A passenger entertainment and environmental control system for an aircraft, comprising:
- a seat-level passenger unit executing a web browser that outputs first and second addressed requests having a network protocol format;
- a head-end subsystem including an audio/video controller unit executing a first web server that receives one of the first and second addressed requests and delivers entertainment content to the seat-level passenger unit; and
- a passenger service subsystem executing a second web server that receives the other one of the first and second addressed requests and adjusts an environmental function of the aircraft.
2. The system of claim 1 wherein the seat-level passenger unit comprises:
- a first plurality of actuators configured to vary the environmental functions of the passenger service subsystem; and
- a second plurality of actuators configured to select a desired content and vary a volume of the desired content, wherein the web browser transmits the first and second addressed requests in response to actuation of the first and second plurality of actuators.
3. The system of claim 2 wherein the first and second plurality of actuators are selected from the group consisting of switches, buttons, knobs, keyboards and touch-screens.
4. The system of claim 1 wherein the seat-level passenger unit further includes a display.
5. The system of claim 1 wherein the entertainment content is selected from the group consisting of streaming audio, streaming video, an interactive game and Internet access.
6. The system of claim 1 wherein the network protocol format is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol.
7. The system of claim 6 wherein the audio/video controller unit further includes a first Common Gateway Interface script that is executed by the first web server, and wherein the passenger service subsystem further includes a second Common Gateway Interface script that is executed by the second web server.
8. The system of claim 7 wherein the environmental function being adjustable by the passenger service subsystem is selected from the group consisting of an in-seat power supply, an overhead reading light, a flight-attendant call system, a climate adjustment system, a seat adjustment system, and an in-seat telephone.
9. The system of claim 8 wherein the environmental function is an overhead reading light, and wherein the second web server executes a Common Gateway Interface script to actuate a switch connected to the overhead reading light for turning the overhead reading light on and off.
10. The system of claim 1 further comprising:
- a second seat-level passenger unit including a second web client that outputs third and fourth addressed requests having the network protocol format; and
- a distribution unit that routes the first, second, third and fourth addressed requests to the first and second web servers, and which routes the entertainment content from the audio/video controller to at least one of the first and second seat-level passenger units.
11. The system of claim 10 wherein the passenger service subsystem includes the distribution unit.
12. A method of performing a function of an in-flight entertainment system using network protocols, the method comprising the steps of:
- connecting a head-end controller unit with a passenger service system;
- connecting a plurality of seat-level units with the head-end controller unit;
- configuring a plurality of network clients and a plurality of network servers on the plurality of seat-level units such that each seat-level unit of the plurality includes at least one of a network client of the plurality and a network server of the plurality, and wherein each network client of the plurality is operable to communicate with each network server of the plurality and with the passenger service system;
- configuring a key routing table on each seat-level unit of the plurality that includes a network client;
- receiving, at a network client of the plurality, an input signal from a user interface device connected with a seat-level unit of the plurality, the input signal associated with a selected function of the in-flight entertainment system;
- mapping the input signal from the receiving step to a control activation signal relative to the key routing table;
- transmitting the control activation signal to at least one network server of the plurality; and
- the at least one network server receiving the control activation signal, executing an instruction to control the selected function of the in-flight entertainment system.
13. The method of claim 12 wherein the mapping step comprises formatting the control activation signal in a network protocol format.
14. The method of claim 13 wherein the network protocol format is selected from the group consisting of Transmission Control Protocol, User Datagram Protocol, Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and File Transfer Protocol.
15. The method of claim 14 wherein the network protocol format is Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and the step of executing an instruction comprises running a Common Gateway Interface script.
16. The method of claim 13, wherein, in the step of executing, the selected function being controlled is selected from the group consisting of streaming audio, streaming video, an interactive game, Internet access, a reading light, a flight-attendant call, a climate adjustment, a seat adjustment, and an in-seat telephone.
17. The method of claim 13 further comprising the steps of:
- the at least one network server receiving the control activation signal, generating a network client response acknowledging execution of the instruction; and
- the at least one network server receiving the control activation signal, sending the network client response to the network client receiving the input signal from a user interface device.
18. The method of claim 17, further comprising the steps of:
- the network client processing the network client response in order to output a display control signal; and
- the network client controlling a display connected with at least one of the user interface device and a seat-level LRU of the plurality to display an indication that execution of the instruction was completed relative to the display control signal.
19. The method of claim 13 further comprising the step of restricting availability of a particular function of the in-flight entertainment system to a subset of seat-level unit of the plurality of seat-level units.
20. An in-flight entertainment system, comprising:
- a passenger service system including a light and a switch that controls illumination of the light;
- a plurality of seat-level units;
- a passenger user interface connected to a seat-level unit of the plurality, the passenger user interface configured to output a user input signal;
- a plurality of web browsers running on the plurality of seat-level units, each web browser of the plurality configured to output a first HTTP-formatted URL call relative to the user input signal;
- a plurality of web servers running on the plurality of seat-level units, each web server of the plurality being responsive to each web browser of the plurality;
- at least one server program in communication with the switch, the at least one server program actuating the switch relative to the first HTTP-formatted URL call; and
- head-end equipment remote from and in communication with the plurality of seat-level units, the head-end equipment including a controller, wherein the controller provides entertainment content from at least one audio/video source relative to a second HTTP-formatted URL call from the plurality of web browsers.
21. The in-flight entertainment system of claim 20 wherein the plurality of seat-level units comprise:
- a plurality of personal digital gateways including smart video display units, the plurality of personal digital gateways configured in a first class section of the aircraft; and
- a plurality of passenger control units configured in non-first class sections of the aircraft.
22. The in-flight entertainment system of claim 19 further comprising:
- a first area distribution box unit that routes entertainment content from the controller to the plurality of seat-level units;
- a second plurality of seat-level units; and
- a second area distribution box unit that routes entertainment content from the controller to the second plurality of seat-level units,
- wherein the passenger service system includes first and second zone passenger service system modules, the first zone passenger service system module being interposed between the first area distribution box unit and the controller, and the second zone passenger service system module being interposed between the second area distribution box unit and the controller.
International Classification: H04N 7/18 (20060101); H04N 7/173 (20060101);