I've just got back from the Avionics Europe 2012 conference and exhibition which was held in Munich.
The theme of this year's conference was 'Common Sky: Operating in One Air Space' focussing on the growth in air traffic across Europe, the challenges arising for air traffic management and navigation, and the development of SESAR air traffic management technologies.
I was keen to hear to how changes to the high-level policies would drive regulatory changes and drive technology requirements.
I didn't have to wait very long, as in his keynote speech, Brigadier General Hans-Georg Schmidt (Vice Commander of 1st German Air Division, and Chairman of the Military Air Traffic Management Board of EUROCONTROL) discussed the implications of the integration of unmanned systems (UAVs, UCAVs) into non-segregated airspace. He discussed the need for unmanned systems to be "sufficiently safe as not to reduce the overal safety of airspace", and said that unmanned systems "must be proven to be safe before their introduction into this environment". (The keynote speech is discussed in more detail by John Keller, conference chairman, in this blog post).
This subject of UAV safety certification was covered in more technical detail by Richard Seitz of Cassidian in his presentation on 'UAV Computing'. He discussed the differences between flight software on piloted aircraft (which leaves the ultimate decision to the pilot) and flight software in unmanned systems which becomes safety-critical in the case of datalink loss, and the need for RTCA DO-178B / EUROCAE ED-12B safety certification of UAV flight software.
It was encouraging to see the subject of UAV safety and the need for software certification being acknowledged, as this was a topic which I had also raised in my conference paper in the context of combined safety and security requirements for unmanned systems (for details see my previous blog).
The other recurring theme at the conference which caught my attention both in the conference and in the exhibition, was the technology disruption of multicore processor architectures, which provides some exciting opportunities for reducing the size, weight and power (SWaP) of avionics systems, but also presents new challenges for hardware and software safety certification. However, there's now significant momentum in the research into these areas, and the experience gained should lead to regulatory guidance and adoption in the near future.
So overall it was an interesting and enjoyable conference, not least for the fine Bavarian hospitality!