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Airfare or Cab Fare? How About Both?

There may soon be a new way to take a cab from point A to point B: through the air. A subsidiary of Boeing – Aurora Flight Sciences – tested its first autonomous personal air vehicle (PAV) in January and during the test, the PAV successfully executed its takeoff, hovering, and landing. The aircraft was not operated by a pilot but had two dummies sitting in the cockpit. The PAV is powered by an electric propulsion system that consists of 8 lift motors and a cruise propeller in the back. When it is launched, it is expected to be able to travel up to 50 miles in one flight. Boeing’s hope is to produce autonomous electric air vehicles that will be cleaner and quieter than aircraft vehicles that are currently available.

An amazing feature of the PAV is its ability to hover, conduct forward motion, and switch off between the two during flight. Ideally, air taxis will be able to lift passengers straight up off the ground, hover when necessary, and fly them to wherever they need to go. The idea of taking an airborne taxi sounds like something reserved for top executives and millionaires but this business concept is modeled on the same ride-sharing services that Uber and Lyft use. In fact, Uber has stated that it hopes to provide air taxi service in Dallas and Los Angeles as soon as 2023.

The concept of autonomous air vehicles is not new to Aurora Flight Sciences. Since its inception in 1989, Aurora has produced more than 30 autonomous air vehicles, including an autonomous cargo system for the United States Marines. This is especially useful to Marines when they find themselves in dangerous environments that make it difficult for traditional aircraft to penetrate.

Other aerospace manufacturers are working alongside Aurora to design and produce autonomous air vehicles, including Bell Helicopter and Airbus. Airbus is currently working to execute the first flight of is CityAirbus which will carry up to 4 passengers.

Taken from: www.asme.org

New Fighter Pilot Technology Saves Lives

Auto-GCAS stands for Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System and plays an important role in safety for fighter pilots when they enter into combat. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, a large number of fatal accidents happen on the ground, or what is often referred to as Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT). Due to the high-level of collisions both mid-level air and on the ground, the Defense Safety Oversight Council (DSOC) partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to design a way to keep fighter pilots safer and less prone to CFIT. The result is the implementation of Auto-GCAS on F-16 Fighting Falcons and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II aircraft.

A number of different factors can cause CFIT including unconsciousness and distraction and – until Auto-GCAS – pilots had no way to combat or prevent CFIT. The F-16 and the F-35 aircrafts now have Auto-GCAS to fight the dangers of CFIT and to reduce the number of related incidents. It does so through intricate algorithms and what is referred to as a digital terrain database; in other words, the technology can detect an impending crash, take control of the aircraft, and completely avoid contact with the imminent terrain. Specifically, SAE mentions that once the Auto-GCAS system determines that a crash is inevitable, it takes control, rolls to wings level, and executes a 5g pull until the aircraft clears the terrain.

Mark Wilkins and Finley Barfield received the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association for their contribution to Auto-GCAS systems. SAE notes that since the F-16 was equipped with Auto-GCAS in 2014, seven airplanes and eight pilots have been saved. The hope is that further integration and innovation will take place, including further implementation of automatic air collision avoidance systems, implementation of ground/air collision avoidance systems and ways to implement Auto-GCAS into larger aircraft and unmanned aerial machines.

Taken from: www.sae.org

Automakers Implement Automatic Emergency Braking

According to the United States Department of Transportation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 10 vehicle manufacturers equipped more than 50% of their vehicles with automatic emergency braking (AEB) between 2017 and 2018. This is a significant increase from the previous year and proves how seriously the auto industry views vehicle and road safety. AEB systems are a form of crash avoidance technology that the NHTSA believes will significantly enhance vehicle safety on the roads. In fact, according to studies conducted by IIHS, vehicles equipped with AEB systems reduce rear-end accidents resulting in injuries by approximately 50%. Further, their studies showed that rear-end crashes involving third-party injuries were reduced by 59%. The technology works by detecting an object in front of the car using a variety of sensors and cameras. When the system detects an object, it alerts the driver but if the driver does not respond fast enough, the system takes over and applies the brakes instead.

The implementation of AEB systems by automakers is completely voluntary and part of a commitment made by 20 manufacturers to have crash avoidance technology installed in all passenger vehicles by 2022. The manufacturers who committed include Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo. The underlying goal in implementing crash avoidance technology is to increase driver safety, decrease accident-related injuries, and prevent accidents from happening in the first place. In other words, many are hopeful that AEB and similar technology will help make roads and overall driving safer. Based on research, IIHS estimates that this particular effort will prevent nearly 30,000 crashes by 2025.

Taken from: www.nhtsa.gov

NASA Crash Tests Airliner

NASA just crash-tested a full-size commercial airliner in an attempt to learn more about crash-worthiness of large aircraft. The crash test, which drew a large crowd of spectators, happened at the NASA Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility (LandIR) – also known as “the gantry”. The aircraft used for the test was a Fokker F28 jet, which was dropped into the landing target from a height of approximately 150 feet in the air. The Fokker F28 was outfitted with many state of the art sensors designed to capture as much data as possible from the crash. The Fokker F28 was also painted in a special pattern that made the aircraft look a lot like a black and white spotted leopard. The black spots on the fuselage and wings of the plane were painted on the F28 to assist in determining the damage assocated to each component during the impact with the earth. High-tech cameras outfitted around the research facility are designed to capture many frames of data as the aircraft falls, and the spots assist in determining aircraft crush associated with the crash landing forces. Seated inside the Fokker F28 airliner were many crash test dummies, or more specifically Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin (WIAMan) from the US Army. These specialized crash test dummies are equipped with force sensors that model the impact severities present to the airliner passengers during the crash. The purpose of this crash is to begin to learn about crash worthiness of airliners. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of establishing standards for aircraft crash worthiness for large aircraft in an attempt to design safer, more resilient commercial aircraft. Previous crash tests simply dropped aircraft from a vertical position, and this particular impact allowed the aircraft to sail from a sideways position into the crash landing site. The test will allow researchers the ability to define shortcomings in aircraft design so that they can be improved upon, resulting in a much safer aircraft of the future.

-taken from www.sae.org

Boeing To Fix Their 737 Aircraft

Boeing has been in the news recently amid the issues that have been plaguing their aircraft. Their 737 MAX commercial aircraft in particular has been the victim of a couple of serious crashes, resulting in a lot of bad press for Boeing and a lack of consumer confidence in their aircraft. What caused the 737 MAX aircraft to crash? The United States Government is working on releasing official reports on the two accidents and the preliminary report on the accident that occurred on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 has been released. Results from the preliminary report show that the airplane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, otherwise known as MCAS, inadvertently activated in response to incorrect signals from the aircraft’s flight angle of attack information. The aircraft’s angle of attack, a key factor in keeping an aircraft afloat in the air, is closely monitored by the 737’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System and the MCAS is supposed to activate under certain conditions or if the angle of attack reaches certain thresholds. The preliminary reports show that incorrect activation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System caused a situation where the flight’s pilots in command were unable to compensate for, ultimately resulting in the aircraft crashes. Pilots are typically under significant stress during flying as it is, and counteracting an improperly functioning system such as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System can quickly overwhelm the pilot to the point of crashing. In an attempt to counteract the improperly functioning Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, Boeing plans to roll out a software update which will allow the pilots to safely overcome the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System and manually control the airplane should a system failure happen again. It is unclear as to when Boeing will release the software updates, however they are currently testing the software updates in demo flights.

-taken from www.sae.org

New Drone Concepts From CES 2019

During the CES 2019 show in Las Vegas earlier this year, there were many different drone manufacturers displaying the newest technologies used in air travel. Drones are taking over many realms that were otherwise thought as unachievable. Amazon has been working with drones for years in order to develop a new method for shipment deliveries. Their work towards this goal has been met with much criticism due to the obvious obstacles that must be overcome, however the progress that Amazon has made has spurred other concepts for new technology. During the CES show, for example, there were manufacturers who were displaying autonomous taxi drones that are capable of carrying human passengers for relatively short distances. These drone taxis, such as the Bell Nexus, use vertical take off and landing technology and a high payload capacity to carry 5 passengers up to 150 miles in distance. While Bell originally planned for the Nexus to be flown by a pilot, new drone technology has made it possible to make the Nexus completely autonomous and capable of flying itself from one point to the next. The idea of aerial autonomous taxi services has caught the attention of ride share companies such as Uber. In fact, Uber has partnered with Bell to help promote the Nexus as a new vehicle for passenger transportation. While Uber has high hopes for the futuristic autonomous taxi drone technology, there are many obvious safety and legal concerns involved with developing this technology. For one, drones in general have become very well regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration because they are becoming so prevalent. Improper drone flights that pose safety hazards to manned aircraft are also becoming more prevalent and the reputation for drones in general is not a positive one. Because of the increase in regulations, new concepts for autonomous drones will require strict testing to ensure that passengers on drone taxis as well as other manned aircraft remain safe during flight. It will likely be quite a while before this technology sees commercial operation. However, regardless of the obstacles, companies like Bell and Uber are very optimistic that the future of passenger transportation will be accomplished by unmanned autonomous vehicles.

-taken from www.sae.org

Air Force Tests Autonomous Drones

The United States Air Force recently tested a new autonomous flight system for use on small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. The system was developed in conjunction with John’s Hopkins University. The unmanned aerial vehicle system is designed to communicate flight information, such as position, speed, and aircraft orientation back to an artificial intelligence system that is designed to control the aircraft if it has violated predetermined course information. The system, called the Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments, or TACE for short, can monitor autopilot software and re-direct the unmanned aerial vehicle back to a safety area if it approaches a virtual border. This functionality could be useful for many purposes, and one main commercial use would be to prohibit drone flight around manned aircraft or within certain restricted airspace. Flights of unmanned aerial vehicles in prohibited areas is a common occurrence among amateur pilots and poses a significant safety risk to manned aircraft. A system to virtually block unmanned aerial vehicle flight from prohibited areas would be a step towards safer air travel.

The Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments system also fulfills the function of an simulated entity for use with live aircraft flight. In other words, the Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments system will be able to fly along other aircraft as a “virtual wingman” with simulated sensors, to enhance constructive flight training and during combat. An autonomous flying system could be a significant asset to the warfighter.  The Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments development comes as a part of the 2018 National Defense Strategy to develop, test, and implement autonomous and AI systems for use by the Air Force. The Air Force’s Combined Test Force with John’s Hopkins University plans to conduct more autonomous flight testing of the Testing of Autonomy in Complex Environments system and will test on unmanned aerial vehicles that can fly up to 250 miles per hour during the summer of 2019.

-Taken From www.saemobilus.com

Batteries Will Replace Fossil Fuels

Batteries are destined to change the future in many ways. One of those ways is by completely disrupting the fossil fuels industry by replacing gasoline powered vehicle with electric vehicles. What is one of the key limiting factors on battery production? Cost. The cost of battery production has dropped significantly in recent years, but it is still expensive to produce batteries. Not to mention, the energy contained in batteries is still substantially less than that of gasoline or other fossil fuels. Therefore, significant obstacles must still be overcome. Even with these obstacles, batteries will someday replace the need for fossil fuels in many applications. Electric cars have recently changed from a niche novelty into a mainstream reality. The main reason for this is because of the decrease in cost and availability of batteries. What was once a very expensive component to produce is now much less expensive. Experts at Bloomberg Energy Finance predict that batteries must reach approximately $100 per kilowatt hour to produce. Current battery production costs are somewhere around double that, and at the rate that production costs have dropped, this goal should be attainable by the year 2025. Additionally, demand for electric vehicles continues to increase. A report from Bloomberg states that worldwide demand for electric vehicles will continue to increase rapidly in the next 30 years. By the year 2040, nearly half of new car sales are forecast to be electric vehicles, up significantly from the roughly 3 percent of sales that electric vehicles currently make up. Aside from transportation uses, batteries will also continue to enhance and improve the world’s power grid. Technologies such as wind power will be able to take advantage of improving battery technology by using batteries to store energy and release it into the power grid when electricity demand is high but wind production is low. This will benefit many types of renewable energy technology as the world’s energy consumption continues to rise.

-taken from www.bloomberg.com