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ARM and Google Android own the skies with Qatar’s Boeing 787

Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Qatar livery lands at Farnborough

During the Farnborough International Airshow 2012, Qatar Airways demonstrated its latest airplane, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. However, for a technology site like VR-Zone we encountered something more interesting – the airplane entertainment system is powered by… Google Android.

If you're an airplane enthusiast, you should not miss out visiting Britain for the Farnborough International Airshow which takes place every second July. Today, Qatar Airways was kind enough to provide us with the information needed about their latest aircraft, the Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner. The company configured the aircraft with 22 business class seats and additional 232 in Economy class, both utilizing the same IFEC (In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity) system – Thales Avant TPMU (Touch Passenger Media Units). Under this cryptic name, there are two versions – 17.3" LCD for Business and 10.1" LCD for the Economy Class.

Unlike the previous-gen systems which all used boxes beneath seats, i8000 Avant TPMU is a completely integrated unit consisting out of STMicro airline grade dual-core processors based on the ARM architecture, 1GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD. That's right, a single 787 airplane entertainment system will feature 508 ARM Cores, 254GB of memory and 63.5TB of SSD space. This however, is not all, as the central server comes with a 32-core processor (Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron, your guess is as good as ours), 128GB of memory and 4TB storage… all SSD, of course.

For operating system, Thales selected Google Android running a customized application suite. Furthermore, the airplane comes with Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity, thus you will be able to connect your phones and tablets to Wi-Fi or 3G GSM network and enjoy connecting to your family while flying 38,000 feet in the air. In words of Alan Pellegrini, CEO of Thales IFEC "The Avant system is the future of IFE for us, you can now get on board an aircraft and not just watch the movie in front of you, but perhaps view the moving map, play a game, or order meals or drinks simultaneously while watching what's on the main screen."

Qatar Airways is not the only customer, though – British Airways signed on as well, and will be equipping its future 787s and with the same system as well. When it comes to Airbus A380, both Qatar and British Airways signed Thales to develop the next generation system, which will debut next year. Codenamed i9000, it will bring next-generation hardware, continuing being powered by the Google Android operating system. Now, would you object having a 17.3" Full HD tablet with 256GB of onboard storage? Or a 10.1" one?

If you're wondering about the cost, bear in mind that in the airline industry, the only real measurement is the weight, because this system, with all the crazy terabytes of solid state memory – weighs 80% less than the previous system. According to our rough calculations, the savings in carrying less weight will reduce the fuel consumption by 0.8% per flight. If the plane consumes 33,000 gallons of (Jet-A) kerosene per long-range flight at 2 flights per day, the plane will save of 528 gallons of kerosene per day. At current prices, we are talking about $4,065 in savings. In a year, we're talking about saving $1.48 million. Given that Qatar refurbishes cabins every 5-6 years (and replaces them with even lighter solutions), this system will save at least 7 million dollars. Given its cost (give or take $1.5-2.2M per plane), we would not be surprised if Qatar and other airlines end up putting this system in as much planes as possible.

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