Author: Özgür ŞIVGIN, Deputy Engineering Director – Avionics
A New Era in Aviation
According to “Gartner 2018 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” study, one of the innovation triggering technologies is “Flying Autonomous Vehicles” for the next couple of decades.
“Flying Taxies!” or Electrical Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) and hybrid or pure electrical propulsion systems are currently very hot topic. Besides popularity of VTOL, there are lots of aerodynamically interesting and innovative concepts for flying electrical vehicles from Lilium’s vectored-thrust jet to Volocopter’s multi-rotor solutions.
Although electrical propulsion is not a new concept, with the remarkable improvements in battery technology with the support of automobile industry, electrical propulsion and flying e-vehicles are highlighted again. SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineering) also forms new standard working groups for these emerging technologies like Hybrid/Electric Propulsion.
“Urban Air Mobility” is actually subset of Smart Mobility tech ecosystem. Our topic “flying vehicles” just only one side of this ecosystem. IT infrastructure for “on demand”, autonomy and most importantly regulation for cities and air traffic management systems for autonomous systems are other key parts. Air Traffic Management System for manned and unmanned flying vehicles is vital for the success of all “Urban Air Mobility” initiatives. Some cities like Singapore and Dubai have already volunteer for trials of these vehicles, related infrastructures and drafting regulations.
European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already released a “special condition” for the emerging generation of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft with distributed thrust units used to generate powered lift and control.
Tech investors and startups want to be the first pioneers of this innovation triggering area but giant players of aviation industry like Boeing, AIRBUS are also investing this area rapidly.
Airbus Helicopter has teamed up with Audi and Italidesign and have demonstrated flying “Pop.Up Next” concept at Amsterdam Droneweek. AIRBUS has also developed its own startup in Silicon Valley for its Vahana Project and several initiatives for hybrid and electrical innovation projects like CityAirbus, Skyways and E-Fan X for technology of vehicle side and traffic management side with its partners like Siemens, Rolls-Royce and others.
On the other hand, Boeing has its own game plan; Opening of Boeing Aerospace & Autonomy Center at MIT, merging of Aurora Flight Sciences and finally formation of Boeing NeXt shows the effort of Boeing in this emerging area. Besides these, Boeing has formed a partnership with SparkCognition (AI Company) for next generation airspace management system (SkyGrid Project) to enable the safe coexistence of piloted and autonomous vehicles.
Other big players like Uber, Bell, Rolls-Royce, Embraer X, companies from Japan and China have also initiated serious efforts in this direction however the issues around the readiness of key technologies and regulations still remain a major concern.
Safety is First!
Although these huge amount of startups efforts, traditional air transport safety concerns shall not be missed.
Historically, safety critical design is driven by aviation because of its valuable payload. A car may “stop”, a web site may “freeze” but any of these cases can not be acceptable in aviation. For successful Smart Air Mobility, all Smart Mobility Eco-Systems must be well defined for safety because of its valuable payload, “human being”.
Although Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are popular concepts, smart vehicles desire robust “safety critical software development” expertise for “vehicles”, “infrastructure” and “air traffic management” side of smart mobility.
Design of “safety critical” air vehicle and its avionics has strict regulations and rules;
Ecosystem of ‘SAFETY CRITICAL’ Avionics System Development