Aurora Borealis seatback prototype

Image via Sekisui

On the first day of this week’s Aircraft Cabin Innovation Summit in London, a team consisting of delegates who met at a previous iteration of the event unveiled their Aurora Borealis seatback prototype, which they created collaboratively in just six months.

During a panel session exploring how airlines work with seating manufacturers at RedCabin’s Aircraft Cabin Innovation Summit in June, Matthew Coder, manager of Onboard Experience at Alaska Airlines, vocalized his wish list for a next-generation economy-class seat.

Following the discussion, delegate Ronn Cort, president and chief operating officer of Sekisui SPI, saw an opportunity to bring together the session’s panelists at his company’s appLab – a space where third parties can collaborate with Sekisui manufacturing experts – to create a prototype of Coder’s dream seatback.

Together with Bernadette Chupela, Sekisui customer experience manager, and appLab consultant Matt Malejko, TrendWorks’ creative director, Patrick McEneany, and founder/director Elina Kopola began working with a range of partners on what would become the Aurora Borealis Seat Back.

With a name that encapsulates one of Alaska’s most well-known natural phenomena, the Aurora Borealis Seat Back was formed from thermoplastic manufactured by Kydex (a Sekisui brand) in a custom pearlescent finish named arctic lustre. It also incorporates other colors such as sneaker white, night sky, salmonberry, and glacier blue that reflect the palette used in Alaska Airlines’ lounge in Seattle.

The colors highlight different features of the seatback, such as a split tray table made by ROLLON Corp with a custom hinge mechanism from Berwick Machine, LLC – multiple tables were on Coder’s wish list – as well as a media easel for personal electronic devices and soft storage made from 3D-knit fabric for in-flight essentials.

In his initial wish list, Coder also envisaged a “super widget” capable of delivering a range of relevant information to passengers. The resulting technology used in the Aurora Borealis Seat Back is known as appBar, and was specially created by design and technology firm Aeolab. It uses colored light indicators to deliver real-time insights to passengers about the status of the lavatory – flashing soft red for occupied or green for available – as well as whether their meal has been loaded or when the galley cart is approaching, for example.

“We wanted to address Matthew Coder’s request to create a new opportunity for interaction between the flight crew and passenger,” McEneany explained. According to Sekisui, the appBar is customizable, so airlines can choose what information they provide.

“We often don’t have enough time to drive innovation because by the time we hear about the airline’s needs, it’s a year and a half into a two-year project,” Cort said. “If we have that conversation early, it allows us to deliver solutions that are flight-ready, on time and on budget.”

In response to the seatback prototype, Coder said he was “overwhelmed,” and stated to the audience that “collaboration is the accelerant of innovation.” When a delegate posed a question about whether having a pocket hidden behind the tray table meant people would be more likely to forget their valuables, the creators responded that there could be a sensor which flashed red if it detected there was still something inside the pocket at the end of the flight. This could be an indication that further collaboration is underway – perhaps a second version of the prototype will be showcased at the next RedCabin event.