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

Light Beam Technology Developed To Notify Pedestrians of Driverless Cars

Beams of light are being used to notify pedestrians of automated vehicle travel. It is well known that automated vehicles are a thing of the future, and that future is quickly approaching. The streets that have been shared by pedestrians and vehicles driven by other people will soon be shared with vehicles driven completely automatically. There are still many obstacles, literally and figuratively, that must be overcome before driverless cars become a reality. One of the main hinderances to future development of automated vehicles is the dangerous or untrustworthy perception held by the public eye. How will automated vehicles properly indicate to surrounding pedestrians the path that the vehicle plans to travel? Jaguar Land Rover has developed a system that will help to inform pedestrians of nearby driverless cars and their planned behavior. The technology uses a series of light beams that are projected out of the front of the driverless vehicle and onto the roadway surface. The light beams run the width of the vehicle and spread apart when the automated vehicle is traveling faster and move closer together at slower speeds. During acceleration and braking, the spacing between the light beams changes, to notify surrounding pedestrians of the vehicle’s planned actions.

Currently, Jaguar Land Rover is developing the technology concurrently while studying the effects of automated vehicles and the “trust” level that pedestrians have around these driverless machines. In order for the automated vehicle technology to launch effectively, pedestrians and the general public must wholeheartedly trust the actions of driverless vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover is studying how to increase this trust level. Current studies show that approximately 41% of pedestrians observing the behavior of automated vehicles are concerned about sharing the roads with robot-controlled machines. The projected light beams are designed to increase the public’s trust of driverless vehicles and will be a key safety feature for automated vehicles moving forward.

-taken from www.sae.org

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

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

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