This week's issue explores the trend areas of electrification, autonomy & AI, and longshots.
Volume 01 | Issue 13 | August 31, 2020
eVTOL Designs, Pentagon AI & Nanodiamond Batteries

Welcome back to the Future of Aerospace.

The Air Force’s Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate has awarded another contract around supersonic transport, this time to Exosonic, which plans to develop a 70-seater that flies at Mach 1.8. Yet another contender (and Y-combinator graduate startup) joins the race to re-launch supersonic transport.

Also, late last week saw the unveiling of the long-anticipated Celera 500L, which extensively uses laminar flow to increase fuel efficiency. More on that here.

IN THIS ISSUE: We take a closer look at the feasibility of eVTOL aircraft designs (Electrification and Sustainability), how the Pentagon is working toward a concept of operations that includes AI-enabled unmanned systems (Autonomy & AI), and the future potential of a diamond battery to power aircraft (Longshots).

Thanks for reading.

—The Future of Aerospace Team
Is There Room for Multicopters in Electric VTOL?
Image: Roland Berger

Designs for eVTOL aircraft may be converging
in the direction of efficient, wing-borne lift + cruise and vectored thrust concepts. Is there room for inefficient multicopter concepts in transport applications?

The Vertical Flight Society’s current database, which counts over 300 eVTOL designs but include many that are defunct, shows distributed electric propulsion-based innovation pushing out in every direction: 115 concepts are listed as vectored thrust, 45 as lift + cruise, and 80 as multicopters.

Roland Berger is one of a few consulting firms that has released reports concluding there are fitting applications for all of these aircraft across a spectrum of use cases; multicopters are best suited to short-distance, inner-city applications, while more complex and efficient aircraft excel at longer-range trips and inter-city transport.

A few announcements last week suggest that companies pursuing multicopters increasingly realize that in the long term, multicopters will not be the ideal choice for any application, as they will be unable to complete with the speed, range or efficiency of lift + cruise and vectored thrust designs.
  • UK-based Vertical Aerospace revealed its ‘VA-1X’ vectored thrust, wing-borne air taxi design, a significant departure from its previous ‘Seraph’ multicopter.

    “Multicopters are great, but they are not efficient for longer flights which is where we see the benefit of being in this market,” the company told us as justification for the pivot.

  • Huazhi Hu, CEO and founder of Chinese developer EHang, mentioned on their Q2 earnings call last week that the company will roll out “new products, including the one with a flight range of over 100 kilometers, opening up more market opportunities.”

    Seeing as EHang’s two-seat ‘216’ has a range of about 21 miles or 34 km, it is almost a certainty that this “new product” Hu mentions cannot achieve the stated range if it is a pure wing-less multicopter.

  • Speaking with Volocopter’s chief commercial officer Christian Bauer, the German startup is still very much focused on rolling out its multicopter VoloCity. The company sees enormous applications for inner-city transportation, given how much of most metropolitan areas fit within its range of 21 mi / 35 km range.

    Tight lips on what’s next, from Bauer: “We will improve further in the future. We start with a two-seater with a pilot in the beginning, later with autonomous functions when they are certified, and we will develop our product portfolio further, that’s clear. That’s all I can say right now.”
It’s also worth noting that most successful long-range applications of drones, such as for linear inspection or delivery at great distance, have employed transition or fixed-wing aircraft. Multicopter drones will continue to be preferring for applications less about mobility over distance, such as inspections or photography.

This does not mean that Volocoper and EHang, as examples, are fundamentally misguided companies. If they companies are able to beat the competition to market, leverage their prototypes and test-flight data, and establish key relationships with cities, regulators and consumers alike, they may be well-positioned players in the future eVTOL market — as long as they shift to a lift-plus-cruise or vectored-thrust focus in future design iterations.

It is almost certain that a simple concept with few moving parts, like Volocopter’s designs, will beat more complex air taxi concepts not only to certification, but more importantly to affordable production at scale.

There will likely be a window where these multicopters are the definition of air taxis. As a reminder, Volocopter is still the only eVTOL developer in Europe with a design organization approval (DOA) from EASA. Vertical Aerospace, which unveiled a vectored thrust design last week, is working to secure theirs.

But that window will close. In comparison to helicopters, everything design around distributed electric propulsion looks efficient, but once more efficient electric aircraft are perfected, the only potential advantage of a multicopter is lower cost of manufacturing — and that would have to outweigh the inefficiencies associated with use.

Read more on this.
Pentagon Building Foundation for Al-Enabled Unmanned Systems in Future Conflicts
Image: U.S. Air Force

Through numerous lines of effort
, the U.S. military is making strides toward developing a concept of operations and Internet-of-Things (IoT) architecture that will enable unmanned aircraft, through artificial intelligence and machine learning, to play increasing roles in future conflicts in order to avoid casualties and increase combat efficiency.

Perhaps the most well-known part of this push is Project Maven, an effort launched in 2017 to develop AI tools to process data from full-motion video collected by unmanned aircraft and decrease the workload of intelligence analysts.

A paper released this past week on Project Maven, which has shifted from Google as prime contractor to Palantir, says U.S. Special Operations Command has expanded its partnership with the project and its Air Force R&D leads “to build an algorithmic capability that will blend publicly available data with classified information across the intelligence, planning and operational portfolios.”

“Recent assessments by [Special Operations Forces] leaders report a near-transformative effect of the human-machine interface in producing a functional common operating picture. Under the hood, the algorithms are improving as well, exhibiting greater utility and accuracy,” the report states.

Biggest challenge: The report found that integrating data across classification levels is the biggest challenge for the effective employment of AI for U.S. military forces in the field.

Where the Pentagon is heading next:
  • In May, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center awarded Booz Allen Hamilton a task order potentially worth $800 million over five years to deliver AI-powered capabilities for use on the battlefield.

  • Under the same philosophy as the Air Force — leveraging AI-enabled unmanned systems to reduce harm to servicemembers — the Army selected a group of companies to develop new Air Launched Effects for its future helicopter fleet that would offer the ability to autonomously or semi-autonomously deliver a range of “scalable effects to detect, locate, disrupt, decoy, and/or deliver lethal effects against threats.”

    The project aims to deliver new drones with unique mission systems and payloads capable of penetrating adversaries Anti-Access/Area Denial environments from platforms such as the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.

  • An upcoming test of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), described as a “military Internet-of-Things,” aims to integrate Project Maven. Tests are being held every four months to highlight how new technologies perform and move the promising ones toward fielding within weeks through the employment of agile software.

    Through ABMS, the Air Force intends to make data more widely available across different users — and eventually enable machine-to-machine interfacing that would allow for unmanned systems to make decisions.
Dr. Will Roper, chief of Air Force acquisitions: "I think we'll eventually rename Advanced Battle Management System because it really isn't battle anymore. It started as the recap of JSTARS, as airborne battle management, and expanded into advanced battle management when we realized we'd probably have to have air and space and maybe ground components to replace that mission. But then we realized, if you actually want to be able to distribute something and have those distributed platforms be able to work together seamlessly, you've signed yourself up to build an Internet of Things. You're going to need software-defined systems, cloud, containerized software so you can move it from the cloud to the edge.

"What we want to do is make sure that machine-to-machine data exchanges occur everywhere, that if any sensor sees something, that data is available to a shooter anywhere without impediments [like] human driven processes, phone calls, work chats.”

Read more on this.
Could This Self-Charging, Thousand-Year Diamond Battery Power a Commercial Airplane?
Image: NDB, Inc.

Two breakthrough proof of concept demonstrations
of a disruptive new self-charging diamond battery powered by nuclear radioactive waste has Pleasanton, California-based green energy startup NDB Inc. poised to disrupt the future concept of power within aerospace applications.

NDB Inc. CEO Dr. Nima Golsharifi told us that research and development of the first ever nanodiamond battery (NDB) began seven years ago, and their focus has now shifted to developing commercialized versions of the device across various applications beyond aerospace

Their first two beta customers include a “leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services and a leading global aerospace, defense and security manufacturing company,” that remain unnamed.

What is the nanodiamond battery? Using a proprietary concept that features multiple layers of synthetic diamond, the battery’s power source comes from the manipulation of energy stored within nuclear radioactive graphite. Inside the graphite is what is known as Carbon-14, a beta ray emitting carbon radio isotope that turns into nitrogen and anti neutrino and an energetic electron, according to the company’s YouTube explainer video.
  • NDB’s synthetic diamond, which also contains carbon, both shields the C-14 graphite and then absorbs the C-14’s energetic electrons –as many as 3,600 on average – to self-generate electricity for as much up to 28,000 years.

  • The company summarizes the diamond battery as effectively “bleeding electricity from recycled waste.”

  • In both recent proof of concepts demonstrations, the battery achieved a “40 percent charge, which is a significant improvement over commercial diamonds, which have a 15 percent charge collection efficiency.”
Golsharifi on potential to power an airplane: “I can say comfortably today that based on the design and tests we have done so far that we can eventually meet the safety certification tests for most major aerospace applications. However, it will take some time to get to that point for aviation, as with any industry, needs to become comfortable with the new technology before it is adopted.”

Development of the first NDB commercial prototype battery is currently underway and is expected to become available later this year.

Read more on this.
Thank you for reading the Future of Aerospace, brought to you by Aviation Today.

View in web browser

This message was sent to

Access Intelligence LLC * 9211 Corporate Blvd., 4th Floor, Rockville, MD 20850
Unsubscribe | Privacy Policy | Contact Us