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

Air Force Plans Drone Swarm Challenge

A competition to help influence new drone technologies is being put together by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Research Laboratory. The competition will find the best drone design to help with fighting wildfires, and will use new drone technologies such as drone swarms. The competition is being called the “Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack” and is designed to promote drone swarm technologies used in a real world scenario. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are becoming more and more popular for many different applications. Their small size and simple design bodes well for situations unsuitable for humans, and new technologies are turning drones into massively capable little machines.

The idea of drone swarms is a relatively new concept. A drone swarm would consist of a large number of independently flying drones that are computer controlled. The drones would all be “aware” of each other to avoid in-air collisions, be fully autonomous, and would be able to fly together in close proximity, with the same goal of each delivering a small payload, perform widespread searches of an area, of other related functionality. It’s easy to envision how drones could be effectively used to fight wildfires: the drones could deliver a fire suppression payload quickly and effectively, and a drone swarm could cover a large area of wildfire.

Aside from the above mentioned usage, the Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack competition aims to show how drone swarms could be used to effectively map out a wildfire area from a safe location. Benefits of using multiple drones for mapping include the ability to cover a large area quickly, and the ability to create almost real-time updated maps of wildfire spread in an area that would otherwise be too dangerous for firefighters to enter. Capabilities discovered during the challenge may be further developed for military applications. The competition will culminate in March, 2019.

-taken from www.sae.org

Off-Highway Driverless Vehicle Challenges

In the realm of driverless vehicles, the automotive sector is generating the most buzz among the general public. Even with the recent advancements made in driverless car technology, there are still many bugs in the system that must be worked out before cars drive on public roadways, free from human intervention. While road travel may need to be worked out, vehicles operated privately or off the roadways face their own challenges. Vehicles that are operated off of public roadways, sometimes referred to as off-highway vehicles, are used in many industries. Some of the biggest industries that utilize off-highway driverless technology are the mining industry and the agricultural industry. Vehicles in these industries benefit greatly from being driverless, and these industries have taken advantage of driverless technology for years. Off-highway vehicles that are outfitted with driverless technology face a different set of challenges than those faced by vehicles operated on public roadways. Some of the challenges are easy to overcome, and some are not. For example, mining equipment must remain in a relatively well-defined area while operating. The area, or mine, is an area that can be properly defined by the driverless vehicle, providing easy navigation and reduction of unknown obstacles. Second, dynamic obstacles, such as humans or other car drivers, are minimized resulting in a decrease to unknown variables. Other challenges pose unique risks to the driverless off-highway vehicle. For example, many off-highway vehicles operate in a very specialized manner, such as agricultural tilling machines. While tilling machines may operate in a defined path, knowing the conditions necessary to properly till a field are much different than the conditions required for roadway travel. Thus, the controls and operations of such off-highway vehicles are more customized and taylor-made for the particular sector of industry. As many experts in these industries will relate, there is not a “one-size fits all” solution to off-highway driverless vehicles. -taken from www.sae.org

Plastics And Composites Are In Demand

Aerospace and automotive industries are increasing their usage of plastics in aircraft and vehicle design. Specifically, high performance plastics, such as composites, carbon fiber, and similar carbon-based materials usage is on the rise. High performance plastics are being used more and more to replace current steel, aluminum, and even titanium components. High performance plastic components are increasing in popularity because they provide a good strength to weight ratio for many components and can be manufactured easily. In addition, many new automotive and aircraft designs, which are migrating towards advanced material applications, may use high performance plastics in emissions reducing goals, as lightweight components require less energy and fuel consumption to propel them. In high-production markets, the usage of high performance plastics is expected to increase from now until approximately 2024, when it will become a $3 billion dollar industry. The rise of high performance plastics allows manufacturers to produce vehicles and aircraft that are lightweight. The goal of light weight and superior strength is not new; however achieving levels of strength not previously achieved and keeping the vehicle’s weight down has reached new levels due to the usage of high performance plastics. In addition, internal combustion engine-powered vehicles may soon be replaced to some degree by electric vehicles, which will utilize composites and high performance plastics in many different and challenging ways. Battery production and energy storage are two areas of electric vehicles that may benefit from the development and usage of high performance plastics. Manufacturing processes that produce high performance plastics are also diversifying. Plastic components can be made through additive manufacturing quite easily. Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing, produces much less waste than traditional manufacturing processes and can create intricate parts while maintaining tight tolerances. High performance plastics can take advantage of additive manufacturing to produce parts that ultimately cost much less to make than current metal components.   -taken from www.sae.org

Autonomous Aircraft To Help Fight Fires

Wildland fires are currently destroying many natural forested areas of the United States. These huge fires spread over natural terrain very rapidly and are difficult to control because they occur in remote areas, often burning everything in sight. Many people have lost their mountain homes due to wildland fires, and firefighters are having a difficult time controlling the fires from spreading further during the hot summer months. One weapon used against wildland firefighters is the heavy air tanker aircraft. Air tankers are designed to carry heavy payloads and when air tankers are used in wildland firefighting, they are equipped to carry enormous payloads of water or fire retardant to the location of the wildland fire and then drop their payload on the area of the fire as they fly overhead. Air tankers are invaluable in the fight against wildfires and are in high demand during fire season. Two companies, Thrush and Drone America, have teamed together to develop an autonomous air tanker that can be used to drop water and fire retardant on wildland fires while being piloted robotically. The autonomous air tanker is an enhancement of other drone-like aircraft currently in use by law enforcement and fire fighters. Current autonomous aircraft are used to monitor wildland fires from an aerial viewpoint, search for hot spots that may reignite, and photograph the spread of fires over time. Dropping a payload autonomously has significant benefits for emergency workers, however. Primarily, keeping pilots out of dangerous situations and flying over dangerous terrain is beneficial from a personnel standpoint. Also, autonomous aircraft have the benefit of being able to fly during the night time and navigate terrain successfully using onboard sensors. Since temperatures are usually lower at night, fires tend not to spread as quickly when the sun goes down, allowing autonomous air tankers to drop water and fire retardant on fires when they are less prone to spread. Plans for development are still under consideration, and teams from both companies are exploring other uses for autonomous aircraft as well. -taken from www.dronelife.com

EV Battery Technology Shows Promise

A French company is currently developing a new energy storage device that may potentially see itself in electric vehicles. The company, called NAWA (short for NAno technology to fight against global Warming), is currently developing “ultra-capacitors” for use as storage devices that can be rapidly charged and discharged to match demands from electric vehicles. The ultra-capacitors are aiming to help some of the current limitations put on electric car batteries such as poor energy density and limitations on charging and discharging. The ultra-capacitors will be designed to be extremely efficient and may eventually have energy densities that rival current lithium celled batteries. Currently, the ultra-capacitors have superior energy density to current capacitor based energy storage and much better efficiency. NAWA is developing the ultra-capacitors using a state of the art technique that aligns series of carbon nanotubes in rows to allow the electrons to pass through the capacitor with limited resistance. A good analogy to the alignment of the nanotubes is to consider the uniform positioning of bristles on a toothbrush, providing a direct route for the electrons to travel through the ultra-capacitor. Two current issues with electric vehicles that are concerning for would-be consumers deal with the allowable range that electric vehicles are limited to, and how to charge the vehicle when the battery is drained. The new ultra-capacitors aim to help these two issues by allowing for current electric vehicle batteries to be lighter in weight, more efficient, and able to take a recharge more quickly. To deal with vehicle range limitations and rapid recharging, the carbon ultra-capacitors will supplement current lithium batteries with superior energy density and the ability to regenerate charge through vehicle decelerations, otherwise known as regenerative braking. Current regenerative braking is not very efficient, mostly because the battery cells cannot recouperate from such rapid recharging. New carbon ultra-capacitors will be able to accommodate the rapid recharging that occurs by regenerative braking, thus recollecting otherwise lost energy. Rapid charging will also be possible when using batteries enhanced with the new carbon ultra-capacitors, therefore reducing the amount of time spent waiting for an electric vehicle’s battery to be recharged. NAWA’s ultra-capacitors are still under development, but plans for testing in automotive applications is scheduled within the next five years. -taken from www.sae.org

BMW Developing Carbon Fiber Components

The use of carbon fiber in vehicle applications is not a new concept, however the cost of manufacturing components made from carbon fiber is typically the limiting factor in its usage. Carbon fiber is a very strong, stiff, carbon based material that can be molded into complex shapes. Once carbon fiber is formed into its end shape, it is very lightweight and can surpass the strength to weight ratio of many competing metals, such as many grades of aluminum and steel. BMW has used carbon fiber in their vehicles and motorcycles throughout the years because it provides obvious engineering advantages for strength and weight, and it is also considered a premium material with a history of usage in motorsports racing. BMW recently ceased production of carbon fiber components for undisclosed reasons. This decision was met by the automotive industry as indicating that BMW’s carbon fiber production was not profitable. However, BMW insisted that carbon-based component production would continue through other avenues. One such avenue that was recently unveiled was the development of a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) motorcycle swing arm. The swing arm was developed with seven joint partners as a demonstration of a new manufacturing process termed “resin transfer molding”. The swing arm is incredibly light and strong, and has won 2018 JEC Innovation Award for its production method and end result. BMW stated that they chose to model a swing arm using resin transfer molding to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology on a part that sees continuous stress during normal usage. The motorcycle swing arm utilizes short carbon fibers in locations on the swing arm that require localized strength. For location of the swing arm that requires elongated stiffness, long fibers were incorporated into the mold.  According to BMW, the cost saving techniques that they learned from development of the swing arm will be directly attributable to other motorcycle components. In the future, BMW will also begin incorporating the same carbon fiber reinforcement for automotive applications.