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How HUE Shaped the Groundbreaking Honeywell Anthem Cockpit

How HUE Shaped the Groundbreaking Honeywell Anthem Cockpit

When Honeywell set out to build its next-generation cockpit system, the company knew it wanted something intuitive and beautiful: a control system as simple as the best smartphone app and as pleasing to the eye as the interior of a luxury car.

So the company turned to the award-winning Honeywell User Experience (HUE) design team to learn what pilots want and help turn it into the reality. HUE designers used input from hundreds of pilots and aircraft systems engineers to develop Honeywell Anthem, the all-new cockpit that has the aviation industry buzzing.

“From Day 1 we were obsessively focused on creating a cockpit that is easy to understand, easy to use, easy to learn and fun to fly,” said Kevin Suits, Vice President of User Experience for Honeywell Aerospace. “We leave the technical functions to Honeywell’s talented avionics engineers. For us, it’s all about creating a superior user experience for pilots, aircraft manufacturers, installers and maintainers.”

Putting users first enabled an enormous leap forward in cockpit technology. Honeywell Anthem is the first flight deck with always-on cloud connectivity and touch interfaces as simple as a smartphone or tablet. The cockpit is flexible, modular and scalable enough to fit any current or future aircraft. It takes a lot of busywork and stress off pilots’ shoulders so they can focus on what they do best – fly the aircraft safely and efficiently. 

HUE Team Puts Design First

Honeywell Anthem reflects the company’s emphasis on top-tier design, both in software and hardware. Several years ago, it created HUE to embed high-quality design thinking in all of its products, from the smallest sensors to the most complicated avionics.

At Honeywell Aerospace, the team helps product managers develop new ideas, creates imagery and prototypes to show customers, and then does extensive testing to refine the look, feel and features. They work closely with Honeywell’s engineering and human factors teams to ensure new systems will meet certification requirements while also pushing technology forward.

User Experience Designer Chris Heine joined the Honeywell Anthem program soon after it launched four years ago. Like other HUE team members, Heine is a private pilot, which gives him a lot in common with the subjects of the team’s research.

“As pilots, we speak a common language and share similar experiences, which opens up lines of communications between Honeywell and the end-user of our products,” he said. “This came in handy as we talked to pilots about what they like – and don’t like – about current-generation cockpits. A big part of our job is listening to the voice of the customer and, fortunately, pilots are more than willing to share their thoughts, both positive and negative.”

HUE Process Hinges on Pilot Input

Extensive research by the HUE design team revealed pilots wanted to upgrade legacy cockpits with a more contemporary look and feel. They also wanted less crowded displays, an easier way to input information and the ability to customize the cockpit based on their personal preferences. Pilots said some seldom-used features are too prominent in current cockpit layouts, while it requires too many clicks to access features they use more often. They want displays to be more intuitive, easier to interpret and easier to learn. But they also want the cockpit to have a familiar feel.

Using extensive input gathered in structured focus groups, ideation sessions and one-on-one conversations with pilots, the HUE design team developed a feature set and concept for Honeywell Anthem, which they constantly tested, tweaked and refined over a four-year development period.

“People can tell you what they want and don’t want in a new product, what features they like and don’t like,” said Advanced User Experience Designer Kelsey Keberle. “But they don’t know how they really feel until they see it, touch it and use it. That’s why we used rapid prototyping to create low-fidelity, virtual and 3D-printed prototypes so pilots could compare multiple options and give us their feedback.”

Developing a new cockpit from scratch is a big job and HUE designers created more than 1,000 iterations of Honeywell Anthem before their vision, a product of collaboration with hundreds of pilots of all skill levels, was realized. It’s a vision that owes much to the world of consumer electronics. 

Love at First Touch

“We were not surprised that pilots embraced Honeywell Anthem’s ‘touch first’ philosophy, which prioritizes touch as an input method,” Keberle said. “They use smartphones and tablets every day and most fly with electronic flight bags, so using touch keypads, cursor-control surfaces and pinch-and-zoom capabilities is second nature to most pilots.”

Tired of traditional interfaces that use text-entry or basic graphical menus, pilots have been clamoring for better ways to input information, she added. “The Honeywell Anthem Smart Scratchpad lets pilots quickly enter numbers or text on a digital keypad. The system immediately recognizes what they want to do – like change the radio frequency or altitude – and auto-suggests the full input, which they can accept or change.”

Honeywell Anthem also lets pilots customize the flight deck for their particular mission and phase of flight. They can put frequently-used touchpads where they are easily accessible and place unique Honeywell Anthem features like the Smart Scratchpad and Secure Cockpit Browser within easy reach.

As the first flight deck to feature always-on cloud connectivity, Honeywell Anthem enables innovations like the Connected Mission Manager. It anticipates pilot needs and provides a simplified view that minimizes the number of touches required to accomplish key tasks. Tasks are presented in “what’s next” order to improve the ease of flying.

Cloud access also makes it easy to load flight plans and run through checklists remotely, which can shave 45 minutes off a pilot’s preflight routine, and to upload databases and download maintenance information. 

HUE Makes Honeywell Anthem an Easy Choice for OEMs

Honeywell Anthem also appeals to aircraft companies that can design a cockpit that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The HUE design team works closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make sure that the new flight deck is seamlessly integrated into their unique design aesthetic, according to Suits.

“Honeywell Anthem is modular, flexible and scalable so original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can make their cockpit layout distinctive and consistent with their branding standards,” he added. “In a world where equipment size and weight are critical factors, OEMs love the fact that the flight control computer is the size of a book, the displays are smaller and lighter, and installation and maintenance are a breeze.”

Scalability means Honeywell Anthem can be configured for small general aviation aircraft, helicopters, urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles, high-end business jets or large passenger aircraft. OEMs can choose the number of screens, their orientation and placement, and the controls pilots use to access and input information.

“The reviews Honeywell has received from pilots, OEMs and the trade press have been extremely gratifying,” Suits said. “They motivate us to continue to learn and find new and better ways to document customer feedback, improve the product, turn customers into collaborators and make ideas real.”     

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