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Hub at the centre of Doha's latest thinking

Posted 1 November 2017 · Add Comment

European electronic systems giant, Thales, is using its innovation hub in Doha to develop subjects as varied as airliner in-flight entertainment and cyber security training. Alan Dron finds out more.

Thales created its Doha Innovation Hub in 2013 in the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), the emirate’s research and development centre.
Thales Group owns the hub, with company employees working full time on both cyber security and in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) development.
The hub is part of Thales’ overall research and development programme, on which the company spends some $2.2 billion worldwide annually.
The European technology group has close links with Qatar Airways, with the airline having, some years ago, selected the Thales TopSeries system for its large fleet of Airbus aircraft. The Thales system is also being installed on the airline’s Boeing 787 fleet.
A year before the innovation hub opened, Thales and Qatar Airways jointly launched a development and training centre at the QSTP. The innovation hub grew out of this initial link.
At the opening of the development and training centre, Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, noted that the facility would ensure the development and implementation requirements of the airline would be met more quickly and allow speedier updates for IFEC content on its aircraft.
Al Baker pointed out how important IFEC had become for airlines and passengers: “Fifteen years ago, IFE played a very small part of an airline’s product offering. Today it has a crucial role in a passenger’s decision-making process when deciding which airline to choose.”
The importance of IFE systems continues, as anyone who has been on a long-haul flight in recent years can testify. Frequently, passengers can be seen engrossed in their seatback screens even before wheels-up, playing games, catching up on new movies, or gorging on multiple episodes of favourite TV series.
That importance is likely to continue. It seems increasingly likely that the trend over the next few years will be for passengers [not withstanding the latest short-term security measures] to use their individual computers or tablets to screen content streamed direct from the internet through a new generation of aerials pointing either at satellites or ground stations.
This will potentially save money for airlines, if they can strip out hundreds of relatively heavy seatback screens and all their associated wiring, saving substantial amounts of weight and thus improving the fuel-burn of their aircraft.
Today, all the local IFE content provided by Thales to Qatar Airways is developed and produced at the QSTP.
A second major subject handled by the innovation hub is the increasingly critical area of cyber and computing security, with air traffic management (ATM) being among the areas studied.
ATM computerisation was one of many areas that developed before the threat of cyber sabotage emerged. While security can be designed into new equipment, it has to be ‘back-fitted’ to older systems.
Qatar being a multicultural country, Thales has been providing classes at the hub to 36 students from all over the world. Four Qatari students achieved internships in Thales’ QSTP activities: two interned in the IFE head office of Thales in Irvine, California, while the other two developed cyber security tools in Qatar.
Thales Qatar makes a point of developing female equality in the workplace, with two-thirds of its students and interns being women.

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