Volume 01 | Issue 20 | October 19, 2020
COVID-19 Uptick in Europe, Multicopter Air Rescue Ops, Ethics of Autonomous Drones

Welcome back to the Future of Aerospace, where each week we dive into a few of the trends rapidly defining the next generation of aircraft and aerial markets.

Yesterday, the Falcon 9 successfully completed SpaceX's fourteenth Starlink mission which featured the deployment of 60 satellites, moving the company "one step closer to providing high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable," SpaceX said in a tweet confirming the launch.

Patrick Ky, the Executive Director of the EASA, told Bloomberg that he is satisfied with the changes made to the 737 MAX and expects the aircraft to be ready to fly again in Europe before the end of the year.

THIS WEEK: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CEO Pieter Elbers believes airlines should still be open to embracing new technologies and changes to the way they operate even as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which is now entering a second wave in Europe. (COVID-19 Impact)

A new study found that using piloted multicopters in air rescue operations is feasible and could improve emergency medical services, especially in hard to reach places. (Electrification and Sustainability)

As the U.S. Army recruits the other military services to participate in next year's Project Convergence exercise to showcase significantly contracted sensor-to-shooter timelines through artificial intelligence (AI), policy discussions on the future use of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) are likely. (Autonomy & AI, Public Policy)

Thanks for reading.

—The Future of Aerospace Team
KLM CEO’s Outlook Still Optimistic as Second COVID-19 Wave Hits European Air Travel
Image: Eurocontrol

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CEO Pieter Elbers
believes most airlines globally as operating in unpredictable survival modes right now under the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus, while he still sees opportunities to adopt new technologies and policies that will make Europe's commercial air transportation industry leaner and more efficient.

Elbers discussed a range of different topics during Eurocontrol's Aviation Hard Talks Oct. 15 webcast, two weeks after his airline submitted a restructuring plan to the Netherlands government for a loan of $3.4 billion Euros that includes a workforce reduction that will see KLM eliminate 4,500 jobs by the end of 2020. Recalling an incident in May 2011 where ash formed from an Icelandic volcano shut down hundreds of flights in European airspace, Elbers said that previous crisis events have lead to innovation and adaption to a new operational normal for the industry.

As an example, the volcanic ash incident forced the airline to invest more in digital communications after it saw how useful social media was for communicating updates to passengers with canceled flights. He expects the current pandemic to drive the adoption of new technologies as well:

  • Elbers on today’s airline challenges: “If I see some of the challenges we have today in the field of sustainability, in the field of predictability, in the field of being agile with your company and to communicate your clients, I think this will help new things like artificial intelligence, using things like bots for quick communications to our customers, so next to the crisis management, I feel we should embrace some of the technological advancements we have in order to build a better future for the industry.”

  • Elbers recently celebrated such innovation with the activation of a new robot system by KLM Catering Services (KCS) that will "reduce handling costs and make it easier to effect meal tray adjustments."

  • KLM has given little details on how the robot will operate other than Elbers mentioning the system will cut passenger meal production costs and adjust meal trays and is to serve as one of the airline's initial steps toward further mechanization of its catering services.

  • Eurocontrol Director General, Eamonn Brennan, also gave an update on how the return of lockdowns in Europe is impacting air travel.

  • Brennan: “What's happening is that the second wave is hitting Europe, governments are taking actions, and this morning it was interesting to note that the European Commission was asking again for governments to act in a coordinated manner. We cannot get certainty into the industry until this happens."

Over the next decade, Elbers said he expects the long-term impact of COVID-19 to lead to increased consolidation among European carriers as well, but first the industry has to get back to normal operational levels.

Read more on the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' CEO's thoughts on the COVID-19 recovery outlook for airlines in Europe.
Multicopters Feasible for Emergency Care Transportation in Germany, Study Says
Image: Volocopter

A new study found that using piloted multicopters in emergency care is feasible and could improve emergency medical services, especially in hard to reach places. The study, Multicopter in the Rescue Service, said a possible rollout would be possible in 2025, but the use of multicopters would not replace traditional helicopter use, instead be used in addition.

Patient outcomes in emergency medical solutions are often dependent on how quickly a medical professional can reach them. According to the study, data found by the Federal Republic of Germany from 1994 to 2017 shows emergency doctor arrival time has increased by 40 percent in the last 20 years. The study proposes multicopters fill this gap because of their tactical advantages when navigating dense urban environments.

Key findings:
  • The ideal deployment radius of the multicopter in this stimulation was found to be 25 to 30 km at a speed of 150 to 180 km/h with a range of 150 km, however, the study states that the even at 80 km/h and a range of 50 km they were able to see significant improvements.

  • The low payload will limit the crew size of emergency multicopters to two crew members.

  • The study found that the public support for the use of multicopters for emergency care was considered to be high because of the direct positive impact on people, reduced noise emissions and environmentally friendly technology.

  • The study details how energy management, maintenance, infrastructure, staffing, and operating costs factor into the economic impact of multicopters in these use cases. The total projected cost for a multicopter station operating 24 hours/day comes out to about $1.5 million per year.

  • The study used Volocopter’s VoloCity in its analysis of technical requirements because of its proximity to market readiness. Volocopter is also a partner of the study.

  • Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter: “The VoloCity is the first multicopter worldwide that is already in the process of commercial certification, and together with ADAC Luftrettung, it could already save lives today.”

Multicopters used in emergency care will have to have corresponding systems, like near-vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) and equipment that would automate or assist the pilot while flying in low visibility, according to the study. The payload of multicopters also needs to exceed 200 kg to account for personnel and equipment weight.

Operational testing is set to begin in 2023 and will take place in the Ansbach rescue service area, the ADAC air rescue station in Dinkelsb├╝hl, Bavaria, and at a multicopter-only base in the Idar-Oberstein region of Rhineland-Palatinate, according to the study.

Read more about the potential for multicopters in German air medical operations here.
Policy Discussions on Ethical and Responsible Use of Autonomous Weapons Likely
Image: U.S. Army

As the U.S. Army recruits the other military services to participate in next year's Project Convergence exercise to showcase significantly contracted sensor-to-shooter timelines through artificial intelligence (AI), policy discussions on the future use of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) are likely.

Drones represent a prominent LAWS use case, and as branches of the military increasingly plan on using them in new and more advanced autonomous ways, they’re facing opposition from humans’ rights groups and companies such as Google whose employees have already expressed opposition to military use of their technology for autonomous drone imaging.

What is Project Convergence and how will it help advance the use of autonomous drones?

Here’s a brief rundown:

  • The first Project Convergence at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona concluded last month, and Army leaders praised the exercise as coalescing future capabilities, AI-enabled systems and a new “computer brain” to prove out capacity for passing targeting data in a matter of seconds.

  • The Army said that the exercise demonstrated the interoperability between Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters and Bell/Boeing V-22 tiltrotors with ground forces, including the ability to exchange targeting information.

  • A new, joint sensor-to-shooter network is required for multi-domain operations against peer competitors.

  • The Army wants to receive a list in the coming weeks of sensors and weapon systems that the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plan to include in next year’s Project Convergence demonstration, as the Army readies to expand the “joint kill web” demonstration to include joint partners.

  • Patrick Biltgen, director of analytics at Perspecta: “This is going to be a tricky situation over the next couple of years because the weapons systems are going to need to operate on tremendously rapid time scales. I think the first place where we should experiment with those types of capabilities is in the cyber domain because you're going to need network defenses that operate faster than human speed.”
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a watchdog group, "aims to preserve meaningful human control over the use of force," according to one of the group's founding members, Laura Nolan, a computer programmer who resigned from Google because of the company's work on Project Maven.

Nolan: “The technologies being tested as part of Project Convergence demonstrate many of our concerns. Can an operator make a sound decision about whether to strike a newly-detected target in under 20 seconds, or are they just hitting an 'I-believe button' to rubber stamp the system’s recommendation, delegating the true decision making authority to software? In a socio-technical system that is explicitly optimizing to reduce the time from detecting a potential threat to destroying it, an individual may not be rewarded for exercising vigilance. The idea of making attacks via the very limited user interface of a smartphone is also troubling.”

Read more about the future of autonomous drones and Project Convergence here.
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