Top student from France is working with a lab at Polytechnique Montréal to design the aircraft flight deck of the future, helping to solve issues associated with emerging cockpit touchscreen technologies
Montreal, QC, August 2, 2021 — Border closures and international travel restrictions aren’t stopping some of the world’s top talent from collaborating with Canadian researchers this summer. Relying on video calls and other advanced technology tools, more than 1,000 students from 12 countries are working on leading-edge research at 54 Canadian universities through a unique internship program called Mitacs Globalink. One of those rising young stars is an engineering researcher from France who is helping a Polytechnique Montréal lab to design the flight deck of the future, creating a unique cockpit touchscreen that is easier and safer for aircraft pilots to use — all from the comfort of his home near Paris, France.
Arthur Camille Bevier, a 23-year-old Master’s student at Université Paris-Seine, is working remotely from home under the guidance of Assistant Professor Philippe Doyon-Poulin at Polytechnique Montréal. Combining his personal experience as a recreational pilot with his engineering specialization in aeronautics and computer science, Bevier is working to understand the issues pilots face as they attempt to enter flight information and other mission-critical data on a touchscreen during flight, and to come up with a design that is better suited to aviation.
“Manufacturers want to bring the efficiency of touchscreens to the cockpit, but as they start to do so, they are encountering problems related to turbulence and vibration, as well as user discomfort,” explained Doyon-Poulin, noting that anyone who has tried to text a friend while riding as a passenger in a car or on a bus will understand firsthand how difficult it can be to use a touchscreen when your hand is shaking. “Pilots have the added complication of trying to do it with their arm fully extended and nowhere to rest their wrist, and they can’t afford to make mistakes,” he added.
Working in collaboration with industrial partner CMC Electronics of Montreal, Bevier’s research builds on a project started by former Mitacs intern Adam Schachner, who successfully designed a test area in the university’s lab that uses an immersive 4D seat to mimic the vibration of an aircraft. After consulting with CMC Electronics engineers to gain a better understanding of the constraints facing pilots when using touchscreens, Bevier analyzed more than 75,000 data points collected by Schachner from 23 participants who were asked to perform various touchscreen tasks under specific vibration conditions while seated in the lab’s specially-designed test area.
Based on the findings, Bevier worked with Schachner to successfully develop three touchscreen prototypes to support easier and more accurate text entry by pilots: one based on the classic QWERTY keyboard interface, one based on an arc keyboard making it easier to input information using a thumb, and one that uses a touch pattern to move a cursor in order to select characters from a list. One of the challenges is that pilots are often entering information that isn’t standard, such as GPS waypoints, meaning the touchscreen can’t take advantage of advanced features such as auto-completion.
“My goal was to think like a pilot and by doing so, to find a keyboard layout and user interface that would be more suitable for use during flight,” said Bevier, adding that the keyboard can’t take up a lot of screen space, has to be easy to access and needs to be designed in a way that mitigates the risk of making the wrong selection. “Right now my focus is on text entry so that when a pilot needs to change their heading or altitude, adjust the radio or change their route, they can be confident they’ll make the right selection.
”The team’s early research indicates that the overall error rate of cockpit touchscreens is 13 percent on average, but can rise to 20 percent as vibrations from turbulence worsen and up to 40 percent as buttons or widgets on the screen get smaller. Their next step is to test all three prototypes designed by Bevier in the lab to compare results and establish which is most stable for use in flight. Once published, they will pass their findings on to CMC Electronics to improve future avionics designs.
Bevier is one of 1,075 students — from Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Taiwan, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States — who are taking part in the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program this summer to help solve complex problems across a range of industry sectors, from healthcare and wellness, to robotics, technology and the environment. Designed to foster international research links and boost Canada’s economy, the 12-week internship normally entails travel to Canada to work alongside Canadian researchers, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer’s program is happening remotely.
For Bevier, the international internship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine his passion for aviation with his education. And though he missed out on a summer in Canada, he is looking forward to meeting his virtual team face-to-face this September when he travels to Montreal to complete his Master’s degree, and is also planning to pursue his PhD under Doyon-Poulin beginning in the fall of 2022.
“When I found this research topic, I knew right away that I wanted to work with Professor Doyon-Poulin and to learn as much as I can about advanced pilot displays and flight deck design,” said Bevier. “I’m working independently in France right now, but thanks to our regular Zoom meetings, I still feel part of the team,” he added.
Doyon-Poulin calls Mitacs Globalink an opportunity to tap into the expertise of international students who often approach problem-solving with a different mindset. “I’m very, very proud to have Arthur on my team,” he said.“He has the understanding, the skill and the interest to advance this research and I couldn’t find a better match for this position.
”Since 2009, Mitacs has supported more than 5,000 international research collaborations through its Globalink research internships. To further strengthen international research collaborations, Mitacs Globalink now offers two-way mobility opportunities between Canada and 13 international partner countries for both undergraduate and graduate students. The program promotes Canada as a top destination for research opportunities and showcases Canadian research expertise around the world.
“Canada now ranks third in the world in attracting international students, with a staggering 642,000 students here on study permits last year alone, and Mitacs is proud to play a key role in continuing to accelerate these efforts, even in the face of a global pandemic,” said Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director John Hepburn, noting that Canada’s international student base tripled in the last decade and is now six times higher than it was at the start of the millennium. “Mitacs Globalink not only helps to advance innovation across all industry sectors through global research collaborations, but it also boosts our economy and helps attract some of the world’s best students to our universities for advanced degrees.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.·
Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, Research Manitoba, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon.·
For information about Mitacs and its programs, see mitacs.ca/newsroom.