Category Archives: Aerospace

When will we have flying cars? Maybe sooner than you think.

After decades of promises, personal air vehicles are finally getting close to commercial reality—but you still probably won’t own one

By Gideon Lichfield, Editor-in-Chief, MIT Technology Review – February 13, 2019

Two weeks ago I would have said flying cars were still firmly in the realm of techno-utopian fantasy, as they have been for decades. Now I’m not quite so sure.

In the coming few years nearly 20 small airborne vehicles are supposedly hitting the market (see table below). Some are drone-like, with anywhere from four to 18 rotors keeping them aloft. Most are fixed-wing craft with propellers that point upwards for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and tilt forward for flight.

Some are also more realistic than others. While both Airbus and Boeing have projects under way, a raft of smaller companies are pushing aggressive time lines as well. Germany’s Volocopter plans to start trials this year of a flying taxi in Singapore. Uber has claimed it will start test runs next year for a service between Frisco, Texas, and the Dallas–Fort Worth airport,and that it plans to start commercial flights in 2023; it has five flying-car makers as partners.

But will they ever be safe, let alone affordable for anyone who isn’t mega-rich? At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, I moderated a panel of experts who made a persuasive case that they could be—though, to be fair, most of the speakers had an interest in doing so.

The panelists were Dirk Carsten Hoke, CEO of Airbus; Ross Perot Jr., a Texas real estate mogul who is helping Uber start up the flying taxi service in Dallas; Liu Fang, director-general of the International Civil Aviation Organization; and Ion Yadigaroglu, a managing partner at Capricorn Investments , which has a stake in Joby Aviation. The panel was under the Chatham House rule, which means I can’t report specific statements, but this was the gist.

Flying cars currently in development
Name & manufacturer Type First manned flight* Expected delivery
Aeromobil 4.0 Folding-wing STOL 2014 (3.0 model) 2020
Aeromobil 5.0 Folding-wing VTOL N/A 2025 or later
Pop.Up Next (Airbus/Audi) Quadcopter 2018 (scale model only) ?
Vahana (Airbus) Fixed-wing VTOL 2018 2020
Aurora (Boeing) Fixed-wing VTOL 2019 2023 (for Uber)
Ehang 184 Quadcopter 2018 2019?
Volocopter 18-rotor copter 2016 Trials in 2019
Joby Aviation Fixed-wing VTOL N/A ?
Lilium Fixed-wing VTOL 2017 Before 2025
Moller Skycar Fixed-wing VTOL 2003 ?
Pal-V Single-rotor gyrocopter 2012 2020
Terrafugia Transition Folding-wing STOL 2009 2019
VRCO NeoXcraft Quadcopter with tilting rotors N/A 2020?
Kitty Hawk Cora (formerly Zee.Aero Zee) Fixed-wing VTOL 2016 ?
Opener BlackFly Fixed-wing VTOL 2018 ?
Karem Butterfly Fixed-wing VTOL N/A 2023 (for Uber)
Bell Nexus Hexacopter with tilting rotors N/A 2023 (for Uber) or 2025
Embraer X Octocopter with rear propeller N/A 2023 (for Uber)
Pipistrel Fixed-wing VTOL N/A 2023 (for Uber)
* Where known, first flight of a pre-production model

 

Why are so many flying cars launching in the next few years?

Lighter composite materials, better communications and guidance systems, and software that could enable the vehicles to fly themselves (probably essential if there’ll be a lot of them in the air) have all played a part. Above all, battery technology is on the verge of making electrically powered flight feasible. We’re still some way from the energy density needed for flights of any length, but short hops aren’t completely out of the question.

But wait—are these literally flying cars?

Not really. A few, like the Aeromobil and the Terrafugia Transition, are cars you could drive on the highway, but most are more like personal flying vehicles  .

So, um, helicopters?

Nope. Most have wings that generate lift, like ordinary planes. A few have multiple rotors, like drones. Either way they are, theoretically at least, safer than choppers (see below).

When can I buy a flying car?

Sorry, you probably won’t be able to. At least for now, you’d need  to be a certified pilot (or employ one) to fly it, and besides, where would you park it? They’ll mostly be owned by firms such as ride-sharing companies and run on fixed routes.

Will flying cars be autonomous?

Ultimately, they probably will be; human pilots are expensive and might not be reliably safe in a really crowded sky. Autonomous flying is an easier technical problem than autonomous driving: obstacles in the sky are few and can be detected with simple radar, whereas a self-driving car needs multiple sensors and heavily trained algorithms to recognize people, other vehicles, traffic signals, lanes, and so on. An automated air traffic management system in constant communication with every flying car could route them to prevent collisions, with human operators on the ground ready to take over by remote control in an emergency.  Still, existing laws and public fears mean there’ll probably have to be pilots at least for a while, even if only as a backup to an autonomous system.

Where will flying cars fly?

Places where demand is high and road traffic is bad—within large cities or from city centers to airports. Rural or intercity travel probably won’t make economic sense.

Where will you catch one?

At “vertistops” and larger “vertiports” on the tops of buildings, which will bring the building owners some extra revenue. (There’d also be chargers or battery-swapping stations there.) That’s how we’ll deal with the problem of finding space in crowded cities .

Won’t rides be insanely expensive?

Again, most of these aren’t helicopters but winged aircraft,   so all the propellers’ energy goes into pushing them forward after takeoff, not keeping them aloft. An electric VTOL vehicle’s energy use per mile is theoretically comparable to that of an electric car. Mass production should eventually bring down the prices of the vehicles themselves. The real cost problem might be the pilots (while we still have them, at least).

Still, our panel speculated that a trip of a few miles might cost passengers as little as $40 or $50—a bit more than a ground taxi, but in a congested city you’d get to your destination much more quickly. In a 2016 white paper, Uber had some sunny projections (pdf, p. 1 and p. 95) showing that for certain routes at least, it will actually be much cheaper, as well as several times faster, to take a flying car than a wheeled one.

Is it safe to have hundreds of flying cars buzzing above packed urban centers?

To make vertical takeoff possible, these vehicles need multiple engines that can produce far more power that what’s required for steady flight. That means that if one or two of them fail, the vehicle can still fly or glide to safety. New air traffic management systems will probably rely more on algorithms than humans to manage the routing—another reason why it’s better if the aircraft flyautonomously .

Okay, but what about a terrorist taking over a flying taxi and crashing it into a building?

As on planes, you could separate the pilot’s cabin from the passenger cabin to make a hijack harder. Failing that, maybe there’d be a system for letting ground controllers take over remotely, locking out the pilot, if the craft deviates from its planned route. In any case, one of these small craft probably can’t do enough damage to make it an attractive target for terrorists.

And how about hackers taking control?

That’s a more credible threat. Good cybersecurity is going to be essential.

Won’t flying cars be noisy?

Again—they’re not helicopters , so they don’t have huge blades to disturb the air. Also, the engines will be electric.

Countries are already going crazy trying to regulate drones; how will they regulate flying cars? 

These are pretty different problems. Since drones are cheap and anybody can buy one, regulators must stop  people from doing malicious or stupid things with them. VTOLs and their pilots, on the other hand, could be certified for safety much like regular aircraft, so existing regulations might not need to be modified much. A bigger question will be whether individual cities decide to allow them in their airspace.

So how long before flying taxis are a common sight in major cities?

Estimates on the panel ranged from “two to five years (but more likely five)” to “10 years.”

Is that plausible? Assuming a big leap in battery capacity, the biggest hurdle is likely to be regulatory. If flying cars are licensed and flown under the same rules as other aircraft, they could start to appear in a few places pretty soon, but managing large numbers of them will require a whole new approach to air traffic management. That, as a somewhat less boosterish panel of experts warned last year, is going to be a struggle.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the year of the first manned flight of the Opener BlackFly as 2017.
————————————————–

The next destination for the aerospace industry

Cargo Launch Rocket Takes Off. 3D Scene.

A Syncroness blog entry by Chip Bollendonk, Mechanical Engineer, Syncroness

Although large, cumbersome projects have traditionally dominated the aerospace industry, the NewSpace movement has forever changed the face of space travel, research, and commercialization. With the emergence of newer, leaner, more commercially-oriented ventures within the industry, many aspects of the processes and materials used in the aerospace industry are rapidly evolving to include “riskier” technologies.

These include 3D printing, on-orbit manufacturing and the use of small, inexpensive components that can be combined to make a functional – and profitable – spacecraft. Working in tandem, these new manufacturing techniques are facilitating “NewSpace,” a movement toward an increasingly leaner, more profit-driven business model for aerospace manufacturers.

Lighter and leaner: Interchangeable parts and 3D printing

In the past, space missions have required custom-built parts, which has limited the ability of smaller companies to break into the aerospace market. The trend toward interchangeable parts represents a massive shift in the industry and should allow smaller companies to break into aerospace manufacturing, making the market more competitive.

The rising popularity of 3D printing, a relatively new, untested technology, is also causing a massive shift in the aerospace industry and is helping drive the NewSpace movement. While smaller, interchangeable parts have made the development of smaller spacecraft possible, 3D printing is improving the process of building larger vessels by enabling companies to manufacture several smaller components as one piece, reducing their weight and bulk. Several aerospace giants, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus utilize parts manufactured this way, and as the technology continues to develop and mature, 3D printing promises to become even more vital to the aerospace industry.

Exciting developments in aerospace

Other exciting developments that have arisen from the NewSpace movement include SpaceX and Blue Origin reusing their first-stage boosters, on-orbit satellite servicing, and NGSO satellite constellations. These developments represent a leaner, more cost-effective approach to aerospace that will change the face of the industry.

While there will always be big-budget space programs with huge “wow” factors” (such as the James Webb Space Telescope with its whopping $9 billion-plus budget), the aerospace sector will continue to look more and more like other commercial industries. Like automotive, medical, and consumer product markets, aerospace will increasingly be driven by fast innovation, sexy products, and bold engineering companies wanting to make a difference in the world.

The future of the aerospace industry

Heading toward 2020, the theme of aerospace is cost- and fuel-efficiency through lightweight, inexpensive materials. The future of aerospace will be centered less on giant corporations and more on smaller companies that are willing to take risks and think outside of the box. This shift will open up opportunities for companies such as Syncroness to leverage their experience across multiple industries to find cheaper, more efficient solutions to the challenges faced by the aerospace industry.

 

Chip Bollendonk is a mechanical engineer with a passion for aerospace and product design. His professional interests include incorporating DFx principles throughout the design process, user-centered design, and rapid prototyping technologies.

Rise of the Drones – Managing the Unique Risks Associated with Unmanned Aircraft Systems


Report – Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) used to be primarily associated with military operations. Today, compact versions are increasingly operating in everyday life and the UAS industry is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar business, as the benefits to be gained from utilizing such innovative technology become apparent.
This Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) report examines the key issues and trends underpinning rapid growth in usage of UAS and provides insight into the potential risk exposures related to their deployment in the private, public and commercial realms.

> Download the full report Rise of the Drones – Managing the Unique Risks Associated with Unmanned Aircraft Systems

> Download the Executive Summary of the report

 

UAS have the potential to both solve problems and save costs in the future across a number of industries, throughout the developing world and in disaster relief scenarios. Growth projections for the sector are significant as UAS become cheaper to purchase, smaller in size and easier to operate. In fact, the UAS industry is regarded by many as the most dynamic growth sector of the global aerospace industry.

However, as civilian and commercial use of UAS rapidly increases and continues to evolve, the potential for misuse of this technology needs to be considered. Advances in technology are inevitably accompanied by a host of new and little understood risks. There have already been enough incidents and near-misses to date involving UAS to generate concern that the likelihood of collisions and other loss events will grow as UAS numbers multiply.

/assets/ContentImages471x160/White%20Papers%20and%20Case%20Studies/Drones%20Report%202016/AGCS-UAS-Microdrones_471x160.jpg

Photo: microdrones.

The landscape today

Use of drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in public airspace is increasing dramatically. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that by the end of 2016 over 600,000 UAS will be deployed for commercial use – three times the amount of manned general aviation aircraft. In addition, 1.9 million UAS are expected to be in recreational use. The number of UAS is set to triple by 2020. (1)

Globally, UAS market volume is forecast to reach 4.7 million (2) units by 2020 (other estimates are even higher), with the market for commercial application of UAS technology estimated to soar from $2bn to $127bn (3). Such projections are driven by UAS becoming cheaper, smaller and easier to use, as well as regulatory progress.

> Read more

UAS – The nuts and bolts: Types of UAS

/assets/ContentImages471x160/White%20Papers%20and%20Case%20Studies/Drones%20Report%202016/AGCS-UAS-Types_large.jpg (Click to enlarge)
Graphic in German

Uses and benefits

Piloted remotely on the ground via control stations, UAS are increasingly used for menial or dangerous tasks, potentially solving problems and overcoming challenges across numerous countries and industries, improving the safety of thousands of workers every year and significantly reducing costs.

UAS are commercially used in a variety of situations, the most popular of which are industrial inspections, aerial photography, agriculture (surveying crops) and law enforcement. As UAS technology penetrates further, a decline in workers compensation losses can be anticipated, particularly related to building inspections. Insurers are also increasingly utilizing UAS to survey loss damage from floods and other catastrophic events, to help alleviate distress and damage to victims and property more quickly.

Emerging UAS usage includes delivering blood and vaccines to remote locations in Africa, as monitoring tools to prevent the exploitation of slave labor in Brazil, fighting grass fires and even delivering pizza and coffee. Subsidiary UAS industries are also being created, such as the emergence of third party “drone for service” vendors, who rent UAS to commercial operators.

> Read more

UAS – The nuts and bolts: Featured Technology
/assets/ContentImages471x160/White%20Papers%20and%20Case%20Studies/Drones%20Report%202016/AGCS-UAS-Types_large.jpg
(Click to enlarge)
Graphic in German

The risk landscape

As recreational and commercial UAS usage increases, new risk exposures are emerging. More incidents likely will occur once regulations are finalized that encourage more widespread use. Such incidents could result in multi-million dollar claims against businesses, operators and manufacturers.

Hobbyists account for the majority of UAS owners yet remain largely unregulated in many countries, raising safety concerns, as many can be untrained and inexperienced. Insurers have already seen loss activity resulting from novice control of UAS. Regardless of technological sophistication or operator skill, however, accidents happen.

UAS raise two priority safety concerns: mid-air collisions and the loss of control. A collision can occur if the pilot cannot see and avoid manned aircraft in time. Most at risk are manned aircraft which fly below 500 feet, such as helicopters, agricultural planes and aircraft landing or departing from airports.

Loss of control can result from system failure or flying beyond signal range; a major risk that has already caused incidents involving injuries. A scenario involving a pilot losing control of a UAS during a building inspection could result in a loss easily in excess of $5m. Damage from “foreign objects”, such as bird strikes for example, is already an issue for the aviation sector, as it is the fifth largest generator of insurance claims (6). A collision involving a UAS striking the engine of an airliner could cause $10m in physical damage alone.

/assets/ContentImages471x160/White%20Papers%20and%20Case%20Studies/Drones%20Report%202016/AGCS-UAS-Microdrones_471x160_2.jpg

As with manned aircraft there are concerns UAS may be used for malicious acts. An emerging peril is the potential threat from UAS being used to target critical infrastructure. There have been a number of incidents of drone overflights at power stations. There are also concerns that UAS could be utilized to attack sports stadiums or other events where large crowds gather.

Other risk scenarios include the prospect of hackers “spoofing” a UAS radio signal, potentially leading to a crash, the potential loss or theft of valuable recorded data when the device is transmitting information to the control station or after the flight by cyber-attack when the data has been stored. In addition to data protection, there are also many public concerns around such issues as privacy and trespass and nuisance.

Increasing use of UAS is also altering the risk profile of many industries. For example, a real estate agent has little bodily injury exposure but this changes if it engages UAS to take aerial photographs.

> Read more

Regulation

Regulations have been a significant barrier to more widespread use of UAS. Standards differ remarkably around the world, as evidenced by the hundreds of working groups trying to harmonize rules. Another challenge is posed by the fact that regulations cannot keep pace with technological advancement.

In most cases, the designation between commercial and recreational UAS use is the starting point. Other common standards exist such as visual line of sight (VLOS) requirements for pilots, size restrictions (usually <55 lbs/25 kg.), and restrictions against operating UAS near airports or outdoor venues.

New rules for commercial use in the US (effective August 2016) represent a milestone as they lower the barrier to entry for new commercial users and are expected to significantly increase the number of units in operation. These new regulations will likely influence other countries to adopt similar laws. The European Union (EU) is also working towards UAS rules.

> Read more

Improving UAS safety: insurance and risk mitigation

As UAS ownership grows so will expectations around safety education. Operators should make this a top priority and obtain the necessary training and experience to competently pilot their UAS.

Training is crucial to reducing the number of incidents and operators should focus on flight time calculation, meteorology, security checks for aircraft navigation systems, emergency instructions, and air traffic law. For businesses, additional training should include on-board camera image uses, flight communications and planning, system maintenance and a host of other technological issues. Even basic safety checklists can help.

In many countries UAS registration is not required, causing problems for insurers and claimants. Identification of both UAS and operator will be essential for maintaining proper liability in future. Introduction of car registration-style schemes will help.

Insurance can protect both operators and the public from risk of mid-air collision, as well as physical or property damage or injury to others. Manufacturers, owners and operators of UAS are exposed to a number of risks, as are businesses which sell and service UAS.

If growth projections for the commercial UAS industry in the US materialize, there is potential for the drone insurance market to be worth $500m+ by end of 2020. Globally, its value could be approaching $1bn (7).

> Read more

###

(1) FAA Aerospace Forecast FY2016-2036
(2) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Market, By Value and Volume Analysis and Forecast 2015-2020 – Research and Markets
(3) Drones will take $127bn worth of human work by 2020, PwC says. Clarity from above – PricewaterhouseCoopers
(4) New Era for Aviation: Opening the Aviation Market for Civil Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems In A Safe and Sustainable Manner – European Commission, 2014
(5) Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty
(6) Global Claims Review, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty
(7) Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty