DESIGNING commercial aircraft would be a whole lot easier if manufacturers didn’t have to consider the pesky customers. Take windows. They are a pain to include on a plane because they must be reinforced, as must the fuselage that houses them. That adds weight, complexity and, ultimately, expense in the form of higher fuel costs. Yet for reasons best known to them, airline passengers like to be able to look out of a porthole while zooming down the runway or flying over a mountain range.
CPI, an organisation that helps firms develop new technology, thinks it might have found an answer. It is working on a fuselage in which there are no windows. Instead, a high-resolution digital display, made up of panels running the entire length of the cabin wall, would project the image from outside the plane, captured by external cameras. This would make the plane seem as if it had one long, continuous window (see picture above). According to CPI’s blurb, the system could correct the displayed images for parallax, which would:
…increase the sensation of looking out of a window, rather than looking at a projected image. Internal tracking cameras could be used to project the image onto the screen from the point of view of the passenger- moving the image in accordance with the movements of the passenger’s head. Images would be relayed from a series of cameras mounted on the fuselage, potentially giving each display an uninterrupted view of the exterior (avoiding the wings and engines).
If the view at 30,000 feet got boring, any image would do—perhaps some mood lighting to help passengers sleep. Potentially everyone wins. Display panels are much lighter than building windows, so flying costs come down. Passengers, meanwhile, get a panoramic view rather than neckache from peeking through an oversized peephole. Even better, it will mean the end of that jealous moment when you realise that the other side of the plane is enjoying a particularly stunning view over London or the Golden Gate Bridge while you only have sky to stare at; the windowless plane can just project the same view to both sides of the aisle.
CPI reckons the technology could be included on aircraft within a decade. The big problem, Gulliver reckons, is a philosophical one. One might call it “The Matrix” conundrum. If you are flying past the Northern Lights, and the view you have of them is being projected onto the cabin, can you claim to have really seen them?