Videoconferencing has reached new heights after a successful live demonstration of the technology in a plane flying two miles above the Earth.
Picturetel, which supplied the kit, believes the trial means that aircraft manufacturers could meet airline demands for on board multimedia networks to improve safety, security and service.
In the future communications to and from an aircraft via satellite could include business videoconferencing, high speed internet access, video on demand and emergency telemedicine via videoconferencing for air ambulances.
Tim Duffy, European vice president of Picturetel, said airlines had already expressed interest in the technology which might come about within two years.
"I can't imagine this will appear on the back of every seat on a plane, but there's no reason why we couldn't have video telephones on every plane," he said.
To show what is currently possible an in flight emergency was simulated on a research aircraft which took off from Rome. The aircrew consulted doctors in Germany, who were able to see a dummy patient well enough to offer instructions for treatment. The doctors monitored ultrasound scans and a bio-monitor, via the videoconferencing system. The aircraft was fitted with a special swivelling antenna, with a beam width of five degrees, transmitting data to Italian satellite Italsat F2. Transmission was achieved with a combination of GTF data, avionic data from the aircraft and a pointing, acquisition and tracking algorithm based on received power. The downlink was 512Kbps, enough for high quality data videoconferencing, fast Internet and data transfer and some telemetry transfers.
From the Rome groundstation the data was transmitted by ISDN at a speed of 384Kbps to the videoconferencing system at Tubingen University Clinic, Germany.
For more stories see 10 February issue of 'Network News'
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