Limousine Crash Raises Questions About Safety

The recent limousine crash in Schoharie, New York raises some safety concerns for large modified vehicles. The accident, which took the lives of 20 individuals, involved a large modified version of a Ford Excursion that had been essentially cut in half with the middle extended, then re-assembled to form a larger vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as NHTSA, stated that this was the most deadly transportation disaster in almost 10 years. The issues that surround the case include whether or not the limousine driver was properly licensed, and the shoddy inspection history held by the subject limousine company and failed inspection results. The history of the vehicle involved in the accident is not completely known to the public, but it is evident from the details that have been released that the vehicle began its life as a 2001 Excursion. While many limousines start out as a normal passenger vehicle, it is common for the limousines to be completely custom made by a third party, lengthening the vehicle to accommodate more people inside. In fact, the term “stretch” limousine appropriately defines what these vehicles are: stretched versions of a vehicle that have extra-long wheelbases, multiple windows in a row between front and rear, and have the capability of holding 10 or more passengers. Sometimes these custom modified vehicles are termed “Frankenstein” vehicles However, simply stretching a vehicle to turn it into a limousine has some very serious side effects. Most importantly, when a vehicle is modified with new custom parts and components, some of the original safety systems may be left out. Things like airbags and seatbelts, which were originally part of the vehicle, are removed from modified limousines. Unfortunately regulations on seatbelt requirements for rear seat passengers, just like those paying customers who hire a limousine service, are not regulated the same in every state. In fact, in New York, where this accident occurred, rear seated passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. Ultimately this accident indicated that there is a significant gap in regulation around the limousine industry that will likely be addressed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration soon. -taken from www.npr.org

European Union Developing Drone Airspace

The European Union is working to develop a new type of airspace that is focused on operation of drones. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV for short) are becoming more and more popular throughout the world and the European Union is proactively developing a system to accommodate these new aircrafts. Drone traffic management poses a unique number of challenges. Mostly, because of the sheer number of drones that are flown in the sky, monitoring and managing positioning of drones and keeping drones away from manned aircraft is a significant challenge. Also, because drones are very small, many drones are not effectively tracked by current technology. The European Union is developing a system to accomplish effective drone flight management by next year. The Geneva based drone body that handles air navigation, Skyguide, recently joined forces with AirMap, a traffic management system, to collectively develop an infrastructure to manage drone flight across all of Europe in an airspace for low-level flight dubbed U-Space. U-Space will be defined as a flight altitude from ground level up to about 150 meters in height for which drone flight will be managed. New surveillance technologies developed for U-Space will be able to effectively track drone flights in U-Space. In the past five years, Skyguide flight requests have increased over ten times, indicating that drone operation is increasing dramatically. While collectively managing drones that fly in U-space and follow protocols set forth by Skyguide pose little threat to manned aircraft, those UAV drones that are flying unauthorized in U-Space may pose significant threat by flying too high, flying without proper tracking devices, or other illegal operations. Because of this Skyguide and AirMap are working to develop a Universal Traffic Management system that will not only track drones that have proper on-board tracking devices, but also track those drones that do not have the tracking devices installed, or the tracking devices were disabled. U-space regulations are currently being developed to cover a variety of flight conditions. -taken from www.sae.org

Boeing Developing Cargo Drone

Boeing recently unveiled a new prototype unmanned cargo drone that is currently under development. The drone, more appropriately called an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, is being developed for use as a logistics operations support vehicle for the military and for commercial purposes. The drone will be electric powered and will be able to carry a 500 pound payload for cargo operations. Boeing is developing the drone as a flying test bed to be used during development of other concurrent projects including the passenger-carrying Aurora Flight Sciences aircraft that was recently transitioned into an unmanned aerial vehicle. Steve Nordlund, president of Boeing’s Horizon X, stated that, with this project, the integration of unmanned aerial systems must be developed with safety in mind, and stated that Boeing will be at the forefront of shaping the future of autonomous flight. Boeing’s Horizon X led the development of the cargo drone with its newly acquired Near Earth Autonomy from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Near Earth Autonomy is developing a software platform complete with sensory inputs that enable aircraft ranging from small sub-meter drones to full scale aircraft to inspect and survey terrain, buildings, and structures autonomously. The Near Earth software and sensors will be implemented on Boeing’s cargo drone to assist in navigation and sensory input. Boeing’s Near Earth Autonomy has already been implemented on full-size autonomous helicopters in partnership with the US Army. Integration of the autonomous systems into full scale aircraft for cargo purposes was also completed for the US Marines recently. In addition to developing a cargo drone, Boeing will be continuing development of other autonomous flight systems with Aurora Flight Sciences, including a joint venture that is being developed with Uber to create a passenger specific autonomous flying vehicle that will be able to transport passengers from point to point. -taken from www.sae.org

New Aircraft Will Utilize Composite Materials

Aerospace companies Boeing and Airbus are working on developing new components to aid in developing new aircraft structures. Forecasts of aircraft sales show that the worldwide demand of large passenger airplanes will increase and an overall production number of up to 40,000 new aircraft may be realized in the next 20 years. To meet this new demand, Boeing and Airbus are working on developing new honeycomb panels that are designed to be structurally stiff, strong, and importantly, easy to assemble and produce. For the increase in aircraft demand, new aircraft structures must be easy to assemble and sub-components must be manufactured rapidly. The new structure composites or sandwiches are being developed for Boeing and Airbus by Belgium Company EconCore, along with Diehl Aircabin. The sandwich structures consist of a lightweight inner honeycomb lattice that is sandwiched between two thin layers of either aluminum or other lightweight material, to create a structure that is lightweight, strong, and has excellent thermal insulating qualities. Insulating against the cold external atmosphere while aircraft are in flight is crucial for passenger comfort and safety. In addition to the insulating properties, the inner honeycomb lattice can be made out of lightweight polycarbonate to create an excellent fire barrier within the sandwich structure. Polycarbonate is strong and resists flammability, making it a good choice for many aircraft structures. The process developed by EconCore can be formed into many different shapes; however joining the layers of the sandwich material together may pose another problem. To remedy this issue, new formulae of bonding adhesives are being developed to properly secure the components together. The benefit of using bonding adhesives instead of traditional rivets, screws, or other hardware, is the weight savings, however ensuring that the bonds between composite components remains solid for the life of the aircraft is being tested before it is put into production. -taken from www.sae.org

Rolls Royce Developing Intelligent Engines

Rolls Royce engines is developing a new concept within their current lineup of available engine models that is designed to intelligently communicate with other connected pieces of technology. The engines, which will have intelligent circuitry attached to them, will be able to communicate with other engines within the same network. Take for example, a system of aircraft engines that are connected together. The connected engines will be able to share operational data amongst each other such as rotational speed, power output, and other criteria. The ultimate goal would be for the engines to produce power efficiently as a system together, instead of as separate power plants that are only capable of operating under the direction of a master controller, such as an engine control unit. A second concept developed by Rolls Royce will be the capability for their engines to be able to communicate vital streams of data to the operator. The operator could be human or machine, however the Rolls Royce engines will have the capability to transfer diagnostic, operational, and optimization data between the operator and the engine in both directions. Therefore, the operator will have the capability to adjust significantly more parameters of the engine base off of the data that is provided by the engine. This type of intelligent circuitry is not new, however utilizing a communications system that accommodates two-way data transfer will allow the Rolls Royce engines to be operated under maximum efficiency. Finally, the Rolls Royce engines will have a level of “machine learning” that will allow for optimization of operational parameters to be set, evaluated, and adjusted to maximize power and efficiency. Maximum performance will be achievable by a system of powerplants that are able to adjust their operating parameters individually and collectively to achieve the best performance. Rolls Royce dubbed the concept IntelligentEngine and will be further developing the project in the coming year. -taken from www.sae.org

Military Develops Unmanned Aircraft

The United States Marine Corps is working on a few autonomous aircraft projects to enhance their performance in the battlefield. These aircraft are being designed to drop off supplies and ordinance to troops while located in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to reach without the use of specialized piloting techniques. In recent demonstration flights, autonomous helicopters were able to successfully drop off supplies while located within a test area. The company that is working on the autonomous development, Aurora Flight Science, retrofitted a UH-1H helicopter with autonomous sensors and cameras as well as LIDAR radar in order to be able to fly autonomously. The UH-1H helicopter was first developed in the 1950’s and 1970’s as a general-use helicopter. The UH-1H was made famous during the Vietnam War and is still in use today for many purposes. The Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) program is developing a flight apparatus that can be retrofitted to more than just UH-1H helicopters. The goal is to make an aircraft-agnostic system that can be used on multiple flight platforms and can be controlled by a simple tablet-based system on the ground by troop deployments. The ground-based control will be simple enough to use that it will not require any advanced training in order to call in for re-supply missions or other support. Aurora Flight Science’s system allows for vertical flight aircraft to detect and identify multiple hazards in the flight path of the aircraft. After detection, the hazards can be safely avoided using the built-in computers that control the aircraft at all times. The Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System has transitioned to the final stages before being used in the field. The United States Marine Corps is now performing experimentation and potential acquisition on the system. Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System is also developing a high-performance vertical flight system, named Orion that is capable of flying for approximately 100 hours with a payload of about 1000 lbs. This unmanned aerial vehicle will is being developed under a new contract with the military and will be suitable for deployment anywhere in the world. -taken from www.sae.org

European Union Develops Strict Emissions Standards

The European Union is developing new emissions standards that are aimed at decreasing pollution caused by motor vehicles. New emissions standards are rather widespread, however those being developed in Europe are some of the more stringent standards and many local municipalities are aiming at restricting pollution causing emissions even further. The typical effort behind these standards is to decrease the amount of diesel emissions caused by large long-haul trucks, vans, and buses. In fact, the European Union’s Mobility Package proposal calls for a 15 percent reduction of all CO2 emissions by 2025. Levels of emissions will be 30 percent lower than current 2021 goals by the year 2030. Specific targets for large vehicles, such as trucks and semis, are being developed currently and will be set in place sometime in 2018. Currently, emissions goals cover small passenger vehicles as well as larger vehicles such as delivery vans. The problem with this approach is that the emissions produced by smaller vehicles can be limited by current technology very easily, however emissions produced by larger vehicles is more difficult to control. Large vehicles that travel short trips, such as delivery vans in municipal areas, may be good candidates for electric drivetrains because the range traveled during normal deliveries is on the order of several miles or less. Electric drivetrains produce no emissions, however the range of electric vehicles is limited to the capacity of the batteries, which can be expensive to produce. For long-haul trucking, diesel will still be necessary for some time. Unfortunately, the cost of developing proper infrastructure, as well as unit development costs of batteries and electric drivetrains, will keep diesel as the front-runner for fueling long-range deliveries and cross-country shipping. Other transitional options away from diesel, such as natural gas or hydrogen power, are options that may be worth investigating to reduce emissions from long-range heavy equipment. -taken from www.sae.org

Polestar is Making Performance Vehicles

Volvo is working on developing a new performance brand of vehicles. The brand, Polestar, has big plans to create a series of electric hybrid luxury and performance vehicles that will be completely stand-alone from Volvo. The first vehicle, the Polestar 1, will be revealed in the next couple of years as a performance two-door sedan that seats four. The Polestar 1 will be primarily an electric powered vehicle, however will also have a small internal combustion engine for extended range. The Polestar 1 will have about 600 horsepower, about 740 ft-lb of torque, and will be designed as a true driver’s car with many high-performance features and sports car styling.  The 600 horsepower rating will come from a fully electric drivetrain that delivers power to the wheels with specialized torque vectoring technology that will allow the car to distribute wheel torque to individual wheels and reduce the likelihood of tire slippage during heavy acceleration. According to Polestar, the Polestar 1 will be the first car to incorporate specialized Ohlins electronically controlled suspension and the chassis will be super lightweight because it will be formed from sheets of carbon fiber. Polestar and Volvo are taking aim at a new generation of mid-sized electric or hybrid vehicles that provide high-performance and low emissions. Other vehicles in this category are being developed by major brands, however Tesla may be the only true competitor to Polestar when the Polestar 1 comes out until other manufacturers join in the competition. Polestar is developing the Polestar 1 on scalable architecture which will allow their engineers to share similar chassis and design concepts between several different models of vehicle. Polestar has plans to eventually offer other electric hybrid vehicles in their lineup, including a sport utility vehicle dubbed the Polestar 3. Production of the Polestar 1 will commence in China in time for a mid-2019 release date. -taken from www.sae.org