A high-tech Mars Rover vehicle is operated by processors from the last century. In this respect, games consoles are head and shoulders above them. It was with this metaphor that EADS’s CEO, Tom Enders, confronted the participants at the opening ceremony of this year’s CeBIT trade show.
Enders presented ‘Bridget’, the futuristic Mars Rover on which EADS’s subsidiary Astrium is working, together with the European Space Agency (ESA), to the guests on the stage. Although this wonder of technology can not only climb over boulders and drill holes into the surface of Mars, but also independently determine its own way across the planet, he said, its core processors were made in the 1990s.
Enders stated that a growing innovation gap between the IT industry and the processing industry lies in the diverging life and innovation cycles of the products. “When Bridget sets off for Mars in 2018, computer performance will have tripled in comparison to today,” said Enders. “By that point her computer will be 30 years old.”
According to Enders, the IT industry has enabled aviation today to become safer and greener. But if the processing industry had been the one to set the pace in the area of microcontrollers and software at the start, he continued, then the roles would have been reversed today. The IT industry, particularly consumer IT, is now setting the standards, with its innovations opening up completely new production processes and possibilities in other sectors.
“From the initial research work to its decommissioning, an aircraft’s entire service life can amount to up to 90 years,” Enders said. Developing a new aircraft programme costs more than 10 billion euros. From the first to the last day, up to three million parts have to work perfectly, because the lives of over three billion people a year depend on compliance with safety standards. This is what differentiates the aviation industry from sectors whose models change frequently.
Today, when supervisory authorities certify a new type of aircraft, all software components are frozen at the respective level of technology, which already makes the software outdated by the time the airlines put the aircraft into operation.
Enders: “In addition to the approximately 200 million euros in investments for the
IT systems of a new type of aircraft, further high costs are incurred due to maintenance, as we are dealing with outdated systems from the very start.”
Enders called for “the innovation process to be revolutionised, without causing damage to the industry. We need to increase the speed of innovation, without compromising on safety.” He called for cross-industry collaboration in order to close the innovation gap. “The motto of CeBIT 2013 is ‘shareconomy’, which is something we can bring to life by sitting round a table and working together to close the gap,” said the CEO. Not only the aerospace industry can profit from collaboration of this kind, he continued, but also all processing industries.
EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2012, the Group – comprising Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 56.5 billion and employed a workforce of over 140,000.