I don’t know about you, but when I saw the new Emirates First Class product, I gasped.
No, no. I’m not talking about the fully-enclosed suite or the fancy bed or anything like that (though, yes, it is quite nice-looking). Rather, it was the windows that grabbed my attention. These may look like normal windows, but oh, they’re so much more.
See, Emirates laid out its new First Class suites in a 1-1-1 configuration on the 777. The suites on the sides are treated to several windows, but what could Emirates do about the suites in the middle? Some people love aisle seats and others love windows. (And there are probably a strange few who even prefer neither for some unknown reason.) But people generally prefer to have an aisle AND window when possible. And if you’re in First Class, that seems like quite a reasonable request. There obviously can’t be windows in the middle of the aircraft, so Emirates did something awesome. It installed virtual windows. You can see them in action in this video:
I spoke with Emirates to get a better sense of how this technology works. The airline will be mounting 3 cameras on one side of the aircraft. Those will work together to create a real-time view that will be displayed in those middle suites. I don’t know exact details of where the cameras are placed, but considering this technology is only impacting a couple of suites toward the front of the aircraft, I assume they’ll be in that general vicinity.
The end result is going to be a view that should mirror what you’d see when looking out a real window. Though there is presumably the possibility of being able to offer different views or content on those “screens,” Emirates won’t. It is simply treating these as if they’re regular windows, and that means you will be able to see what’s outside in real-time and only that. Of course, you can close the shades if you want and see nothing instead, but it won’t be anything fancier than just a window with an electronic shade.
This is much different than the standard camera views that you can get through an airline’s entertainment system. In those, you feel like you’re, well, watching a video. But with these windows, you will feel like you’re actually looking outside. It may sound like a minor difference, but it’s not.
So why is it that I’m so excited about this? Well, I love windows. I will sit in a window seat every single time. But windows are also a real pain. (Just ask the designers of the original de Havilland Comet.) They add stress and complexity to an airframe that could be completely avoided with virtual windows. Just imagine a cargo aircraft with no windows on it. Now imagine you sitting inside that airplane but being able to “see” outside just like on a regular commercial aircraft. Though I don’t build airplanes myself, I would assume the ability to remove windows from the fuselage would allow for a stronger, simpler, and better aircraft.
This kind of technology can also allow designers to really get creative on new aircraft. Think about the B-2 stealth bomber. That kind of triangular “flying wing” design” could lend itself to commercial aviation some day, but windows would be a real challenge. Now imagine that could be built with virtual windows throughout the cabin, giving people a constant ability to look out without requiring any structural work.
Heck, you could make the whole airplane a virtual window if you want. That would result in something similar to Airbus’s 2050 concept airplane (though that plan apparently would, in theory, use transparent cell membranes or something crazy like that).
Yes, this may seem like it’s just a fake window, but it’s so much more. I’m excited about what it might mean for future aircraft development. Oh… and yeah, those new Emirates suites look pretty darn nice too.