Not Touch Panel

This crossed my radar screen sensor fusion network thanks to the folks at TWIV. What does it have to do with virology? Nothing!

In a recent posting [stderr] about the most excellent F-35, we considered the problem of cockpit switches versus touch screens – high tech versus “simple and works.” One thing I did not bother to mention is that you can have tactile switches that are software-programmable. Each switch can be individually hard-wired or field programmable, but you still don’t have to fumble around with a touch-pad. And, if you’re like me, you probably assumed that nobody makes those old-school proper switches any more – and you’d be wrong.

Concord Aerospace: [ca] makes switches for your space shuttle simulator, B-52 cockpit, or desktop. They are delightful.

I have not purchased any to check them out; they don’t look like cheap plastic crap(tm) though. They appear to be powder-coated castings with silicone boots to keep dust and puke out of the electronics. Also, in the interest of actual flighty stuff, where crew are wearing bulky space-suits instead of $400,000 carbon fiber cinema-hoods on their heads, there are protective bolsters to keep a pilot from accidentally powering off the air scrubber or something useful like that.

You can get them with custom printing; if I were still playing a lot of Elite I would totally be building myself a button-box based on these switches. Fortunately for me, I am not.

The folks at Concord Aerospace also have a sense of humor:

Personally, I’m shocked that the JEWISH SPACE LASER doesn’t have an internet-based control plane, perhaps secured with TLS and a password: (‘spacelaser123’)

Their copy is pretty arch, too:

Entertain your inner conspiracy theorist with the Concord Aerospace JEWISH SPACE LASER ACTIVATION PANELS. 

Do you think Oxygen is overrated? 

Are forests getting in your way?   

Do you already own a SPACE LASER but it lacks that certain “CHOSENNESS” factor?

If your answer is yes,  then you are in luck!

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Notice the different protective bales on the switches? These guys are serious about their switches.


  1. Ridana says

    Can I hook that up to my light switch so it activates the laser grid protecting my home when I turn on the lights?

  2. consciousness razor says

    You can get them with custom printing

    Just what I needed for my Jewish Time Laser.

  3. Some Old Programmer says

    Per that excellent Jewish Space Laser documentary, “Spaceballs”, the combination would have to be “12345”.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    Mechanical switches vs. touch panels – all primitive kludges. I am still holding out for the brain implant.

  5. DonDueed says

    You understand that the Apollo switch panel is also darkly humorous, right? Because that was the switch that triggered the explosion that nearly doomed Apollo 13.

    Specifically, liquid oxygen tank 2 was destroyed by a fast-burning insulation fire when Jack Swigert set the O2 FANS switches to the ON position.

  6. dangerousbeans says

    I wonder if i can hook that Apollo one up as a fan controller for my PC? (well, easily)
    or maybe dust collection in my workshop?

  7. says

    Specifically, liquid oxygen tank 2 was destroyed by a fast-burning insulation fire when Jack Swigert set the O2 FANS switches to the ON position.

    I did not catch that. Very clever reference from someone at Concord Aerospace.

    (That is some powerful nerd-fu you are packing there!)

  8. xohjoh2n says

    @2 Just remember to mount them at 90° to each other or things could get a little weird.

  9. lorn says

    First, there is nothing inherently less maintainable or reliable about touch-screens if they are implemented well. The problem is that the technology is far newer (1970s or so) and so far less robust than simple switches, which have been around since the mid-1800s. I’ve been told by an older electrical engineer it is possible to establish three-way redundancy and tactile feel to touch screens. Protective physical barrier grids are easily doable. Essentially a touch-screen array could enjoy the same robustness of dedicated switches while maintaining the advantage of near infinite programmability.

    The advantage being that any array can substitute for any other array and be reassigned at will. ie: if one bank of switches is damaged you can reassign that switch array to any other bank.

    I suspect that in the near future most human interfaces will be be worked through a helmet display and processor set unique to and worn by each pilot. The instruments and controls in the cockpit will be limited to the bare minimums necessary for last-chance redundancy. Likely compass, artificial horizon, and altimeter in one compact unit front and center and vestigial stick, rudder, throttles. that fold out of the way until needed.

    In other words the big flat-screen arrays, HUD, and lights are going away.

    Reginald Selkirk @5 is likely correct in the direction we are going. Jack into some sort of neural interface and act as if, eventually think about, physical interfaces.

    People want to fly so we will continue to do that. But the important stuff will be increasingly done by drones or robotic aircraft that don’t require amenities like oxygen and are immune to high-Gs. Already the dividing line between aircraft and missile is being blurred. Without a human operator every aircraft is potentially expendable.

  10. jrkrideau says

    Reminds me of Donald Norman mentioning that pilots used to board aircraft armed with Styrofoam cups, post-it notes and tape to overcome design features.

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