Aircraft Control System for LED Lighting on Private Aircraft

Electronics circuit board and communications software to configure and operate a system of LED lighting for business class aircraft lighting systems.

The Client

The client is a worldwide leader in the production and supply of innovative products for the aviation industry. They specialize in avionics systems and integration, interior lighting, cabin comfort and exterior lighting products for the military, corporate, HOS/VIP, helicopter and air transport markets.

The Need

Design Interior LED Lighting System for High End Private Aircraft.

With FAA regulations for noise reduction, the challenge of this project was to create a "quiet" network of interior LED lights that could be controlled from the cockpit. If lights are allowed to run signals in sync, it would create an unacceptable 400 Hz hum. If the lights are allowed to run signals randomly, the hum would come and go with peaks and valleys. This network of lights was required to run "quietly" consistently.

Another major requirement involved the future growth of the system. With its focus on aircraft lighting, the client had plans to introduce additional products into the lighting family and wanted the system to support future expansion and interoperability. The new communications protocol for setup and operation needed to be expandable.

The RightHand Solution

RightHand's complete design included a board schematic, board application, bootloader, customized protocol, and PC application to configure the board. The initially chosen processor PIC16 microcontroller was not powerful or small enough to meet the requirements, so the design was changed to use the more powerful PIC24 processor.

RightHand's solution supports up to 250 chains of LED lights, addressable individually or as a group. Each chain of light can have an unlimited number of lights in the chain, limited only by hardware and not software.

The central controller PC application allows for system setup and configuration as well as monitoring, testing and troubleshooting, ensuring proper installation. The system is also field upgradeable via a custom bootloader to allow for new software to be loaded at any time.

The Results

When it came to the development toolset, navigating through Microchip datasheets for nuances can easily turn a learning curve into a learning cliff. Development in this environment requires expert embedded experience with the Microchip family, which RightHand could provide to our clients.

As for the requirement for expandability, the protocol definitions and implementation have proved to be flexible enough that they still serve as a backbone to the system several years after initial development.