Avionics News May 2012 - 22
PS Engineering’s PMA8000BT
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cords made the inside of an otherwise roomy cockpit seem a little claustrophobic. But, even a decade or so ago, engineers were tackling the solutions that would underpin multiple new products. And, the solution came with a name only a dentist could love.
Meet Our Friend, Bluetooth
The tech-savvy among us likely know the name “Bluetooth” and the basics of what it does. But, most don’t grasp its full potential to the extent of some avionics and accessory companies. To most of us, Bluetooth begins and ends as the technology that connects our wireless phones to remote headsets – in this case tiny, ounces-heavy devices worn on or in our ears. When connected to Bluetooth-compatible wireless phones, Bluetooth headsets take over the phone’s speaker and microphone. Simple – a miniature wireless mic and headphone system. In fact, voice communications wasn’t the idea behind Bluetooth’s development by Swedish telecommunications giant Ericcson back in 1994. The concept used Bluetooth as the backbone for personal area networks within office spaces to replace – yes, you guessed it – cables, in this case the venerable RS232 cables. Instead of wires, the inventors envisioned a secure, encrypted, 2.4 GHz wireless data device that would plug into the RS232 ports of computers, printers and scanners. It’s this secure data capability that enables Bluetooth for voice – and everything else it handles over the public 2.4 GHz to 2.48 GHz band. Among Bluetooth’s many strengths is its ability to handle multiple devices simultaneously while maintaining separation and secure encryption between them all. Bluetooth is fundamentally an excellent fit for use inside aircraft because of its low power, digital signature and separation from the frequencies employed by other aircraft avionics.
TSO’d version for the experimental-aircraft market. The PMA8000BT uses Bluetooth to connect with iPhones, BlackBerrys, Android or Palm devices. Once connected, it allows the user to stream music through the intercom or make a call through a connected cellphone by using the aircraft headset for the audio in and out. Look – no wires. “We studied the utility of Bluetooth for a long time and offered it to the experimental market,” said PS Engineering founder Mark Scheuer. As with so many of PS Engineering’s prior innovations, the Bluetooth capability was well received. The company spent the additional time to seek certification in order to refine the operating application into one as transparent and seamless as possible. “We do not want to overcomplicate the audio panel,” Scheuer said. Let the smartphone find the PMA8000BT’s signature, and with a click you establish the link. Once linked, pick your function preference and proceed. Four muting modes and music distribution capability allow the pilot and passengers to decide who hears the music and how it’s handled by the audio panel. Last year at the 2011 Aircraft Electronics Association International Convention & Trade Show in Reno, Nev., the company introduced two companion audio panels that retain the Bluetooth and phone capabilities, while adding additional communications channels or other features. So far, most people using the PMA8000BT’s advanced capabilities employ wired headsets. That, too, is changing.
Cutting Headset Cords with Bluetooth
A pilot friend recently complained that aircraft headsets can’t be as small, light and wireless as cellphone Bluetooth links. If Bluetooth seems a natural fit for connecting cellphones, audio-control systems or personal headsets, it’s only a small step to what may be a perfect match for aircraft headsets and aircraft cockpits. Some forward-thinking companies were way ahead of my pilot friend. The Bluetooth headset system is here and growing. One, the BluLink general aviation Bluetooth music and cellphone adapter from Pilot USA mixes the wired world with the wireless. It plugs into the headset cable and into the panel jacks using adapter cables; from there it connects wirelessly to your cellphone or Bluetooth-compatible music player or tablet computer.
Free the Headset and Handset Twins!
Although it’s not the first application of Bluetooth to come into aircraft cockpits, Bluetooth for voice is among the driving functions behind today’s crop of wireless cockpit devices. PS Engineering struck first, offering Bluetooth in its topof-the-line audio panel, the PMA8000BT in April 2010 – two years after offering the same Bluetooth connectivity on a non22