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The Ever Changing Landscape of Graphics in Avionics

By Matt Jackson
Technical Product Manager
Aug 13th 2019
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Over the last 30 years graphics technologies have evolved significantly both in the Aerospace & Defense industry, and in desktops, tablets and handhelds. Graphic systems that were based on screen technologies such as basic “cursive” display updated to multi-line scanning methods, and have now morphed to pixel based digital techniques; the technology to drive the displays has been updated from simple electronic signaling to powerful microprocessors, DSPs, and dedicated GPGPUs. In the past, military avionics led graphics innovation, but it now mostly adapts consumer technologies. The life cycle of aircraft computers, and particularly those with graphics capabilities, has radically shortened, and techniques used to develop these systems have to adapt.

Presagis has lived through these changes and, because of this continuous technology change, we pay close attention to the latest trends

Software technologies have also moved on, driving the evolution of new programming languages and techniques and development tools to cope with the complexity of modern graphics systems. We have moved from pixel/vector buffer technologies to OpenGL fixed function pipelines, then shader programming, and now to the performance revolution offered by Vulkan, all within a short 20 years span. Limitations imposed by the simple display technologies of the eighties and nineties have been replaced by technologies that in many ways offer excess capability: often the challenge now is to pre-process information, blend sensor data, de-clutter screens, etc., to make a situation understandable by pilots.

This revolution in computer graphics has made it difficult for graphics systems designers and developers to predict the direction their designs and systems will take once in production and guarantee compatibility, maintenance and upgradability. Presagis has lived through these changes and, because of this continuous technology change, we pay close attention to the latest trends to ensure our technology both supports current needs but also adapts to evolutions in the industry. Our products VAPS and VAPS XT were designed to support these generational changes and enable HMI engineers to focus on the content when building avionics display graphics with the knowledge that future compatibility and design reuse, even as the technology beneath its feet continues to evolve.

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