Electric aircraft with vertical takeoff one day will be surf heaven, but the timing of the implementation, which they say enthusiasts of this form of transport, to put it mildly, ambitious. Not so long ago — last month, Uber said in the conference, Elevate, which will deploy its system UberAIR already in 2023. How is this even possible? There is no Autonomous control, no rules regulate air traffic, no technology, no working systems. What do say?
There is a problem in the aircraft. Uber, the dominant player trying to bring this industry to life, insists that electric aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing (e-VTOL) — the best option, which is nothing like it in efficiency, speed, reliability, security and tihosti. Such transport can not just take and receive from existing equipment. It will need new engines, flight control and situational awareness system.
In fact, it is an opportunity to remake the industry, which is beginning to seem a little stagnant. “It’s time to rethink aviation,” said Rene Landry, a researcher of aviation systems at ETS, technical University of Montreal. “Avionics that we use now is based on overall architecture, which was developed during the Second world war. Equipment, for example, is duplicated for redundancy, and inefficient use huge cables. Here it would be possible to introduce a lot of innovation.”
As an example, one such innovation that can change the industry, he noted that software that was used for flight planning, remained in the 20th century because of the emergence of the iPad. “Ten years ago we could say that the iPad never certified for use in the cockpit,” he says. “But after six months and it has certified more than 400 companies that was collected by the flight system, is closed. In them was no longer necessary — everything can be done on the iPad.” Of course, the software for flight planning is only the first problem that might face a network of flying cars.
Objective #1: to transfer control of the flight computers
Our air taxi of tomorrow will perform most of the work of the pilot themselves, using Autonomous, highly automated systems. Uber said it expects that the flying taxi service will begin with people-pilots, but very soon — within the next decades, the situation will change in favor of self-governing systems. Systems of Autonomous aircraft currently being developed, but they are not even close to true wide approval.
An intermediate step would be to just make a working product. “Working at NASA has demonstrated the viability of the so-called simplified transport management,” says aerospace engineer Brian Herman, associate Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. Under this scenario, most systems are either in control of the flight or navigation and communication are computer-controlled and the pilot in General says what to do and where to go. “The pilot can not control 8 or 10 different propellers and be situational aware at least to some degree. So when you press the switch, the transport needs to do a lot in offline mode”.
This kind of flight is already within reach, so fly most drones (military machines). But certified, safe for passengers managed by minimally trained pilots in commercial air space — what wants Uber is still far. Though, because such systems should ideally operate in inclement weather and in the city.
Autopilot system does not have the same judgment, as human pilots. “Autonomous systems are very difficult to understand different scenarios, says Herman. — For example, you are flying and you see a forest fire in the left window. Pilot-the person will immediately understand that to fly over it would be a bad idea. But how do you know the Autonomous system? We are faced with “lack of imagination” on the part of the system.”
Objective #2: to electrify a plane
Despite the fact that many small aircraft — twin helicopters like the Robinson R-22 to any modern airplanes — you could create a fleet of flying taxis, Uber and its partners believe that the future of electricity. Primarily because electric traction is simpler, more reliable and easier to manage than internal combustion engines. Although scientists believe that we are still decades from breakthrough in the energy density of batteries, which will allow, for example, regional planes to fly hundreds of miles at a time, Herman believes that small flights of air taxi could be implemented with the help of modern technology.
Not so long ago, Uber announced a partnership with Karem, which is developing an electric aircraft with rotors with variable speed. They are able to more effectively modulate the energy consumption of the existing batteries and represent one of the possible solutions to this problem. Many experts in aerospace and technology industries argue that short flight at 20-30 km are possible even with today’s battery technology. The main snag is how to achieve high-speed charging, which will make a fast trip in an urban environment with a constant deficit of energy.
Task #3: cheap to build
Assume that battery technologies will not be a deterrent, but production will, in part because the working system of air taxis, dependent on economy of scale, will require the running of thousands of units as soon as possible. Other industries have resolved similar problems of production, but this was for a long time. The automotive industry, for example, demonstrated over the past 20-30 years that modern production methods can significantly reduce the cost of creating even the most complex modern vehicles. This includes integration of new high-tech composites and alloys, each of which has unique requirements for the production process. Achieving comparable numbers in production vehicles e-VTOL — hundreds of thousands per year, as required by Uber — may be unrealistic, but the transfer of already existing techniques of production from the automotive to aerospace industry can speed up the process.
On the other hand, it’s still an aircraft, not cars. The Assembly is light, durable, proven and quiet aircraft from composites, not from compositematerials components, is another matter entirely. Assemble an airplane from composite materials like carbon fiber, practically manual labor, because manufacturers need skilled workers who will apply the materials to connect the elements and then call the hull in search of structural voids, air bubbles and other up the slack, which may be forgivable car that costs four wheels on the ground, so to speak, but not in the flying Bob, who races with people at an altitude of 300 meters.
“I spoke with the manufacturers of the composite, they have no idea how to pick up the pace, we’re talking about,” says Herman. It is expensive and difficult; the aircraft never built up large amounts, because demand is simply not there. The demand for hundreds of thousands of aircraft, of course, may appear one day, and production methods necessary to prepare in advance, but it will be over decades, not years.
Task #4: make them quieter
Remains noise. Flying taxi will operate in an urban environment that is already highly regulated in relation to the noise of helicopters and the roar of planes at the airports on the outskirts. If vertiport Uber will witness hundreds of takeoffs and landings every hour, the aircraft must be extremely quiet.
For smaller aircraft, with its vertical lift, the problem will not only reduce the decibels, but the sound signature — that is, in how the noise is mixed (or not mixed) with the background of the city. Uber explores this question and argues that the reduction of the noise by 15 decibels will reduce noise to acceptable levels, both from the point of view of volume and total solubility in the background of the city. It is also worth considering that a large part of the noise of the urban environment comes from cars, and they will gradually turn into electric cars in the coming decades.
The creation of a silent electric aircraft will require significant innovation, because the cars still have to scroll the same amount of air through the blades to take off and land. One approach is to reduce the speed of rotation of the rotor blades as they become louder, approaching supersonic speed. To do this, the engineers could add the blades on each rotor, reducing the number of turns but maintaining a lifting force. Could also help the distributed system of rotors with six or eight small screws. Sooner or later a solution will be found.
Five years certainly seem to be enough time to overcome these challenges — and that we are not affected broader economic and legislative issues. How to implement a flying taxi in old-school commercial aerospace system — the same question. But technology is evolving and when a certain impetus to the implementation of any projects will be inevitable. Once flying taxi will become a cultural phenomenon as familiar as smartphones or trolley.
So Uber wants, anyway.