Collisions with birds are a serious problem for commercial aircraft, costing the industry billions of dollars and killing thousands of animals every year. New research shows that a robotic imitation of a peregrine falcon could be an effective way to keep them out of flight paths.
Worldwide, so-called birdstrikes are estimated to cost the civil aviation industry almost US $1.4 billion annually. Nearby habitats are often deliberately made unattractive to birds, but airports also rely on a variety of deterrents designed to scare them away, such as loud pyrotechnics or speakers that play distress calls from common species.
However, the effectiveness of these approaches tends to decrease over time, as the birds get desensitized by repeated exposure, says Charlotte Hemelrijk, a professor on the faculty of science and engineering at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. Live hawks or blinding lasers are also sometimes used to disperse flocks, she says, but this is controversial as it can harm the animals, and keeping and training falcons is not cheap.
“The birds don’t distinguish [RobotFalcon] from a real falcon, it seems.” —Charlotte Hemelrijk, University of Groningen
In an effort to find a more practical and lasting solution, Hemelrijk and colleagues designed a robotic peregrine falcon that can be used to chase flocks away from airports. The device is the same size and shape as a real hawk, and its fiberglass and carbon-fiber body has been painted to mimic the markings of its real-life counterpart.
Rather than flapping like a bird, the RobotFalcon relies on two small battery-powered propellers on its wings, which allows it to travel at around 30 miles per hour for up to 15 minutes at a time. A human operator controls the machine remotely from a hawk’s-eye perspective via a camera perched above the robot’s head.
To see how effective the RobotFalcon was at scaring away birds, the researchers tested it against a conventional quadcopter drone over three months of field testing, near the Dutch city of Workum. They also compared their results to 15 years of data collected by the Royal Netherlands Air Force that assessed the effectiveness of conventional deterrence methods such as pyrotechnics and distress calls.
In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the team showed that the RobotFalcon cleared fields of birds faster and more effectively than the drone. It also kept birds away from fields longer than distress calls, the most effective of the conventional approaches.
There was no evidence of birds getting habituated to the RobotFalcon over three months of testing, says Hemelrijk, and the researchers also found that the birds exhibited behavior patterns associated with escaping from predators much more frequently with the robot than with the drone. “The way of reacting to the RobotFalcon is very similar to the real falcon,” says Hemelrijk. “The birds don’t distinguish it from a real falcon, it seems.”
Other attempts to use hawk-imitating robots to disperse birds have had less promising results, though. Morgan Drabik-Hamshare, a research wildlife biologist at the DoA, and her colleagues published a paper in Scientific Reports last year that described how they pitted a robotic peregrine falcon with flapping wings against a quadcopter and a fixed-wing remote-controlled aircraft.
They found the robotic falcon was the least effective of the three at scaring away turkey vultures, with the quadcopter scaring the most birds off and the remote-controlled plane eliciting the quickest response. “Despite the predator silhouette, the vultures did not perceive the predator UAS [unmanned aircraft system] as a threat,” Drabik-Hamshare wrote in an email.
Zihao Wang, an associate lecturer at the University of Sydney, in Australia, who develops UAS for bird deterrence, says the RobotFalcon does seem to be effective at dispersing flocks. But he points out that its wingspan is nearly twice the diagonal length of the quadcopter it was compared with, which means it creates a much larger silhouette when viewed from the birds’ perspective. This means the birds could be reacting more to its size than its shape, and he would like to see the RobotFalcon compared with a similar size drone in the future.
The unique design also means the robot requires an experienced and specially trained operator, Wang adds, which could make it difficult to roll out widely. A potential solution could be to make the system autonomous, he says, but it’s unclear how easy this would be.
Hemelrijk says automating the RobotFalcon is probably not feasible, both due to strict regulations around the use of autonomous drones near airports as well as the sheer technical complexity. Their current operator is a falconer with significant experience in how hawks target their prey, she says, and creating an autonomous system that could recognize and target bird flocks in a similar way would be highly challenging.
But while the need for skilled operators is a limitation, Hemelrijk points out that most airports already have full-time staff dedicated to bird deterrence, who could be trained. And given the apparent lack of habituation and the ability to chase birds in a specific direction—so that they head away from runways—she thinks the robotic falcon could be a useful addition to their arsenal.
This article appears in the February 2023 print issue as “Robotic Falcon Is the Scarecrow of the Skies.”
Match ID: 4 Score: 142.86 source: spectrum.ieee.org age: 88 days qualifiers: 142.86 xkcd
What Is Blockchain? The Complete WIRED Guide Thu, 02 Feb 2023 18:24:00 +0000 The idea of creating tamper-proof databases has captured the attention of everyone from anarchist techies to staid bankers. Match ID: 0 Score: 30.00 source: www.wired.com age: 0 days qualifiers: 20.00 cryptocurrenc(y|ies), 10.00 bitcoin(|s)
‘Pig butchering’ crypto scams, where victims are wooed for months before being fleeced, are ruining people’s lives. But how are criminal gangs exploiting trafficking victims – and using fake UK firms – to steal millions of pounds?
It can start on a dating app, social media – or even a language learning app. A stranger starts a conversation that over weeks or even months blooms into an online friendship or more. At some point the chat turns to cryptocurrency. Well-known platforms or reputable virtual wallets are discussed and investments are made. By the time the victim realises they have been scammed, they have lost their savings.
The Observer journalist Shanti Das started investigating these so-called “pig butchering scams” with Niamh McIntyre of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. She tells Nosheen Iqbal how criminal gangs in China exploit trafficking victims to defraud people around the globe. And how the pair discovered that more than 150 fake UK firms were being used to allay victims’ suspicions.
Continue reading... Match ID: 1 Score: 20.00 source: www.theguardian.com age: 1 day qualifiers: 20.00 cryptocurrenc(y|ies)
Chainalysis reports that worldwide ransomware payments were down in 2022.
Ransomware attackers extorted at least $456.8 million from victims in 2022, down from $765.6 million the year before.
As always, we have to caveat these findings by noting that the true totals are much higher, as there are cryptocurrency addresses controlled by ransomware attackers that have yet to be identified on the blockchain and incorporated into our data. When we published last year’s version of this report, for example, we had only identified $602 million in ransomware payments in 2021...
Match ID: 2 Score: 20.00 source: www.schneier.com age: 2 days qualifiers: 20.00 cryptocurrenc(y|ies)
Most Criminal Cryptocurrency Funnels Through Just 5 Exchanges Thu, 26 Jan 2023 17:00:00 +0000 The crypto money-laundering market is tighter than at any time in the past decade, and the few big players are moving a “shocking” amount of currency. Match ID: 3 Score: 8.57 source: www.wired.com age: 7 days qualifiers: 5.71 cryptocurrenc(y|ies), 2.86 bitcoin(|s)
If you want to pay online, you need to register an account and provide credit card information. If you don't have a credit card, you can pay with bank transfer. With the rise of cryptocurrencies, these methods may become old.
Imagine a world in which you can do transactions and many other things without having to give your personal information. A world in which you don’t need to rely on banks or governments anymore. Sounds amazing, right? That’s exactly what blockchain technology allows us to do.
It’s like your computer’s hard drive. blockchain is a technology that lets you store data in digital blocks, which are connected together like links in a chain.
Blockchain technology was originally invented in 1991 by two mathematicians, Stuart Haber and W. Scot Stornetta. They first proposed the system to ensure that timestamps could not be tampered with.
A few years later, in 1998, software developer Nick Szabo proposed using a similar kind of technology to secure a digital payments system he called “Bit Gold.” However, this innovation was not adopted until Satoshi Nakamoto claimed to have invented the first Blockchain and Bitcoin.
So, What is Blockchain?
A blockchain is a distributed database shared between the nodes of a computer network. It saves information in digital format. Many people first heard of blockchain technology when they started to look up information about bitcoin.
Blockchain is used in cryptocurrency systems to ensure secure, decentralized records of transactions.
Blockchain allowed people to guarantee the fidelity and security of a record of data without the need for a third party to ensure accuracy.
To understand how a blockchain works, Consider these basic steps:
Blockchain collects information in “blocks”.
A block has a storage capacity, and once it's used up, it can be closed and linked to a previously served block.
Blocks form chains, which are called “Blockchains.”
More information will be added to the block with the most content until its capacity is full. The process repeats itself.
Each block in the chain has an exact timestamp and can't be changed.
Let’s get to know more about the blockchain.
How does blockchain work?
Blockchain records digital information and distributes it across the network without changing it. The information is distributed among many users and stored in an immutable, permanent ledger that can't be changed or destroyed. That's why blockchain is also called "Distributed Ledger Technology" or DLT.
Here’s how it works:
Someone or a computer will transacts
The transaction is transmitted throughout the network.
A network of computers can confirm the transaction.
When it is confirmed a transaction is added to a block
The blocks are linked together to create a history.
And that’s the beauty of it! The process may seem complicated, but it’s done in minutes with modern technology. And because technology is advancing rapidly, I expect things to move even more quickly than ever.
A new transaction is added to the system. It is then relayed to a network of computers located around the world. The computers then solve equations to ensure the authenticity of the transaction.
Once a transaction is confirmed, it is placed in a block after the confirmation. All of the blocks are chained together to create a permanent history of every transaction.
How are Blockchains used?
Even though blockchain is integral to cryptocurrency, it has other applications. For example, blockchain can be used for storing reliable data about transactions. Many people confuse blockchain with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum.
Blockchain already being adopted by some big-name companies, such as Walmart, AIG, Siemens, Pfizer, and Unilever. For example, IBM's Food Trust uses blockchain to track food's journey before reaching its final destination.
Although some of you may consider this practice excessive, food suppliers and manufacturers adhere to the policy of tracing their products because bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella have been found in packaged foods. In addition, there have been isolated cases where dangerous allergens such as peanuts have accidentally been introduced into certain products.
Tracing and identifying the sources of an outbreak is a challenging task that can take months or years. Thanks to the Blockchain, however, companies now know exactly where their food has been—so they can trace its location and prevent future outbreaks.
Blockchain technology allows systems to react much faster in the event of a hazard. It also has many other uses in the modern world.
What is Blockchain Decentralization?
Blockchain technology is safe, even if it’s public. People can access the technology using an internet connection.
Have you ever been in a situation where you had all your data stored at one place and that one secure place got compromised? Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to prevent your data from leaking out even when the security of your storage systems is compromised?
Blockchain technology provides a way of avoiding this situation by using multiple computers at different locations to store information about transactions. If one computer experiences problems with a transaction, it will not affect the other nodes.
Instead, other nodes will use the correct information to cross-reference your incorrect node. This is called “Decentralization,” meaning all the information is stored in multiple places.
Blockchain guarantees your data's authenticity—not just its accuracy, but also its irreversibility. It can also be used to store data that are difficult to register, like legal contracts, state identifications, or a company's product inventory.
Pros and Cons of Blockchain
Blockchain has many advantages and disadvantages.
Accuracy is increased because there is no human involvement in the verification process.
One of the great things about decentralization is that it makes information harder to tamper with.
Safe, private, and easy transactions
Provides a banking alternative and safe storage of personal information
Data storage has limits.
The regulations are always changing, as they differ from place to place.
It has a risk of being used for illicit activities
Frequently Asked Questions About Blockchain
I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about blockchain in this section.
Is Blockchain a cryptocurrency?
Blockchain is not a cryptocurrency but a technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible. It's a digital ledger that records every transaction seamlessly.
Is it possible for Blockchain to be hacked?
Yes, blockchain can be theoretically hacked, but it is a complicated task to be achieved. A network of users constantly reviews it, which makes hacking the blockchain difficult.
What is the most prominent blockchain company?
Coinbase Global is currently the biggest blockchain company in the world. The company runs a commendable infrastructure, services, and technology for the digital currency economy.
Who owns Blockchain?
Blockchain is a decentralized technology. It’s a chain of distributed ledgers connected with nodes. Each node can be any electronic device. Thus, one owns blockhain.
What is the difference between Bitcoin and Blockchain technology?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, which is powered by Blockchain technology while Blockchain is a distributed ledger of cryptocurrency
What is the difference between Blockchain and a Database?
Generally a database is a collection of data which can be stored and organized using a database management system. The people who have access to the database can view or edit the information stored there. The client-server network architecture is used to implement databases. whereas a blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks, stored in a distributed system. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, timestamp and transaction information. Modification of data is not allowed due to the design of the blockchain. The technology allows decentralized control and eliminates risks of data modification by other parties.
Blockchain has a wide spectrum of applications and, over the next 5-10 years, we will likely see it being integrated into all sorts of industries. From finance to healthcare, blockchain could revolutionize the way we store and share data. Although there is some hesitation to adopt blockchain systems right now, that won't be the case in 2022-2023 (and even less so in 2026). Once people become more comfortable with the technology and understand how it can work for them, owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs alike will be quick to leverage blockchain technology for their own gain. Hope you like this article if you have any question let me know in the comments section
FOLLOW US ON TWITTER
Follow @AdilAhmad_c Match ID: 4 Score: 4.29 source: www.crunchhype.com age: 290 days qualifiers: 2.86 cryptocurrenc(y|ies), 1.43 bitcoin(|s)
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are the most popular digital assets today, capturing the attention of cryptocurrency investors, whales and people from around the world. People find it amazing that some users spend thousands or millions of dollars on a single NFT-based image of a monkey or other token, but you can simply take a screenshot for free. So here we share some freuently asked question about NFTs.
1) What is an NFT?
NFT stands for non-fungible token, which is a cryptographic token on a blockchain with unique identification codes that distinguish it from other tokens. NFTs are unique and not interchangeable, which means no two NFTs are the same. NFTs can be a unique artwork, GIF, Images, videos, Audio album. in-game items, collectibles etc.
2) What is Blockchain?
A blockchain is a distributed digital ledger that allows for the secure storage of data. By recording any kind of information—such as bank account transactions, the ownership of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), or Decentralized Finance (DeFi) smart contracts—in one place, and distributing it to many different computers, blockchains ensure that data can’t be manipulated without everyone in the system being aware.
3) What makes an NFT valuable?
The value of an NFT comes from its ability to be traded freely and securely on the blockchain, which is not possible with other current digital ownership solutionsThe NFT points to its location on the blockchain, but doesn’t necessarily contain the digital property. For example, if you replace one bitcoin with another, you will still have the same thing. If you buy a non-fungible item, such as a movie ticket, it is impossible to replace it with any other movie ticket because each ticket is unique to a specific time and place.
4) How do NFTs work?
One of the unique characteristics of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is that they can be tokenised to create a digital certificate of ownership that can be bought, sold and traded on the blockchain.
As with crypto-currency, records of who owns what are stored on a ledger that is maintained by thousands of computers around the world. These records can’t be forged because the whole system operates on an open-source network.
NFTs also contain smart contracts—small computer programs that run on the blockchain—that give the artist, for example, a cut of any future sale of the token.
5) What’s the connection between NFTs and cryptocurrency?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) aren't cryptocurrencies, but they do use blockchain technology. Many NFTs are based on Ethereum, where the blockchain serves as a ledger for all the transactions related to said NFT and the properties it represents.5) How to make an NFT?
Anyone can create an NFT. All you need is a digital wallet, some ethereum tokens and a connection to an NFT marketplace where you’ll be able to upload and sell your creations
6) How to validate the authencity of an NFT?
When you purchase a stock in NFT, that purchase is recorded on the blockchain—the bitcoin ledger of transactions—and that entry acts as your proof of ownership.
7) How is an NFT valued? What are the most expensive NFTs?
The value of an NFT varies a lot based on the digital asset up for grabs. People use NFTs to trade and sell digital art, so when creating an NFT, you should consider the popularity of your digital artwork along with historical statistics.
In the year 2021, a digital artist called Pak created an artwork called The Merge. It was sold on the Nifty Gateway NFT market for $91.8 million.
8) Can NFTs be used as an investment?
Non-fungible tokens can be used in investment opportunities. One can purchase an NFT and resell it at a profit. Certain NFT marketplaces let sellers of NFTs keep a percentage of the profits from sales of the assets they create.
9) Will NFTs be the future of art and collectibles?
Many people want to buy NFTs because it lets them support the arts and own something cool from their favorite musicians, brands, and celebrities. NFTs also give artists an opportunity to program in continual royalties if someone buys their work. Galleries see this as a way to reach new buyers interested in art.
10) How do we buy an NFTs?
There are many places to buy digital assets, like opensea and their policies vary. On top shot, for instance, you sign up for a waitlist that can be thousands of people long. When a digital asset goes on sale, you are occasionally chosen to purchase it.
11) Can i mint NFT for free?
To mint an NFT token, you must pay some amount of gas fee to process the transaction on the Etherum blockchain, but you can mint your NFT on a different blockchain called Polygon to avoid paying gas fees. This option is available on OpenSea and this simply denotes that your NFT will only be able to trade using Polygon's blockchain and not Etherum's blockchain. Mintable allows you to mint NFTs for free without paying any gas fees.
12) Do i own an NFT if i screenshot it?
The answer is no. Non-Fungible Tokens are minted on the blockchain using cryptocurrencies such as Etherum, Solana, Polygon, and so on. Once a Non-Fungible Token is minted, the transaction is recorded on the blockchain and the contract or license is awarded to whoever has that Non-Fungible Token in their wallet.
12) Why are people investing so much in NFT?
Non-fungible tokens have gained the hearts of people around the world, and they have given digital creators the recognition they deserve. One of the remarkable things about non-fungible tokens is that you can take a screenshot of one, but you don’t own it. This is because when a non-fungible token is created, then the transaction is stored on the blockchain, and the license or contract to hold such a token is awarded to the person owning the token in their digital wallet.
You can sell your work and creations by attaching a license to it on the blockchain, where its ownership can be transferred. This lets you get exposure without losing full ownership of your work. Some of the most successful projects include Cryptopunks, Bored Ape Yatch Club NFTs, SandBox, World of Women and so on. These NFT projects have gained popularity globally and are owned by celebrities and other successful entrepreneurs. Owning one of these NFTs gives you an automatic ticket to exclusive business meetings and life-changing connections.
That’s a wrap. Hope you guys found this article enlightening. I just answer some question with my limited knowledge about NFTs. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comment section below. Also I have a question for you, Is bitcoin an NFTs? let me know in The comment section below
Match ID: 5 Score: 4.29 source: www.crunchhype.com age: 361 days qualifiers: 2.86 cryptocurrenc(y|ies), 1.43 bitcoin(|s)
Video: What you need to know about the race to the first Bitcoin ETF Tue, 25 May 2021 15:35:25 GMT Several bitcoin ETFs have been filed with the U.S. Securities and Commission, but none have been approved. Cryptocurrency skeptics and supporters have cited benefits and concerns about what the approval of a bitcoin ETF may mean for investors. Match ID: 6 Score: 4.29 source: www.marketwatch.com age: 618 days qualifiers: 2.86 cryptocurrenc(y|ies), 1.43 bitcoin(|s)
Each January, the editors of
IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.
If electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft do manage to revolutionize transportation, the date of 5 October 2011, may live on in aviation lore. That was the day when a retired mechanical engineer named Marcus Leng flew a home-built eVTOL across his front yard in Warkworth, Ont., Canada, startling his wife and several of his friends.
“So, take off, flew about 6 feet above the ground, pitched the aircraft towards my wife and the two couples that were there, who were behind automobiles for protection, and decided to do a skidding stop in front of them. Nobody had an idea that this was going to be happening,” recalls Leng.
But as he looked to set his craft down, he saw a wing starting to dig into his lawn. “Uh-oh, this is not good,” he thought. “The aircraft is going to spin out of control. But what instead happened was the propulsion systems revved up and down so rapidly that as the aircraft did that skidding turn, that wing corner just dragged along my lawn exactly in the direction I was holding the aircraft, and then came to a stable landing,” says Leng. At that point, he knew that such an aircraft was viable “because to have that sort of an interference in the aircraft and for the control systems to be able to control it was truly remarkable.”
It was the
second time anyone, anywhere had ever flown an eVTOL aircraft.
350 organizations in 48 countries are designing, building, or flying eVTOLs, according to the Vertical Flight Society. These companies are fueled by more than US $7 billion and perhaps as much as $10 billion in startup funding. And yet, 11 years after Leng’s flight, no eVTOLs have been delivered to customers or are being produced at commercial scale. None have even been certified by a civil aviation authority in the West, such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
But 2023 looks to be a pivotal year for eVTOLs. Several well-funded startups are expected to reach important early milestones in the certification process. And the company Leng founded, Opener, could beat all of them by making its first deliveries—which would also be the first for any maker of an eVTOL.
Today, some 350 organizations in 48 countries are designing, building, or flying eVTOLs, according to the Vertical Flight Society.
As of late October, the company had built at its facility in Palo Alto, Calif., roughly 70 aircraft—considerably more than are needed for simple testing and evaluation. It had flown more than 30 of them. And late in 2022, the company had begun training a group of operators on a state-of-the-art virtual-reality simulator system.
Opener’s highly unusual, single-seat flier is intended for personal use rather than transporting passengers, which makes it almost unique. Opener intends to have its aircraft classified as an “ultralight,” enabling it to bypass the rigorous certification required for commercial-transport and other aircraft types. The certification issue looms as a major unknown over the entire eVTOL enterprise, at least in the United States, because, as the blog Jetlaw.com
noted last August, “the FAA has no clear timeline or direction on when it will finalize a permanent certification process for eVTOL.”
Opener’s strategy is not without risks, either. For one, there’s no guarantee that the FAA will ultimately agree that Opener’s aircraft, called BlackFly, qualifies as an ultralight. And not everyone is happy with this approach. “My concern is, these companies that are saying they can be ultralights and start flying around in public are putting at risk a $10 billion [eVTOL] industry,” says Mark Moore, founder and chief executive of
Whisper Aero in Crossville, Tenn. “Because if they crash, people won’t know the difference” between the ultralights and the passenger eVTOLs, he adds. “To me, that’s unacceptable.” Previously, Moore led a team at NASA that designed a personal-use eVTOL and then served as engineering director at Uber’s Elevate initiative.
A BlackFly eVTOL took off on 1 October, 2022, at the Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach, Calif. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Making eVTOLs personal
Opener’s aircraft is as singular as its business model. It’s a radically different kind of aircraft, and it sprang almost entirely from Leng’s fertile mind.
“As a kid,” he says, “I already envisioned what it would be like to have an aircraft that could seamlessly do a vertical takeoff, fly, and land again without any encumbrances whatsoever.” It was a vision that never left him, from a mechanical-engineering degree at the University of Toronto, management jobs in the aerospace industry, starting a company and making a pile of money by
inventing a new kind of memory foam, and then retiring in 1996 at the age of 36.
The fundamental challenge to designing a vertical-takeoff aircraft is endowing it with both vertical lift and efficient forward cruising. Most eVTOL makers achieve this by physically tilting multiple large rotors from a vertical rotation axis, for takeoff, to a horizontal one, for cruising. But the mechanism for tilting the rotors must be extremely robust, and therefore it inevitably adds substantial complexity and weight. Such tilt-rotors also entail significant compromises and trade-offs in the size of the rotors and their placement relative to the wings.
Opener’s BlackFly ingeniously avoids having to make those trade-offs and compromises. It has two wings, one in front and one behind the pilot. Affixed to each wing are four motors and rotors—and these never change their orientation relative to the wings. Nor do the wings move relative to the fuselage. Instead, the entire aircraft rotates in the air to transition between vertical and horizontal flight.
To control the aircraft,
the pilot moves a joystick, and those motions are instantly translated by redundant flight-control systems into commands that alter the relative thrust among the eight motor-propellers.
Visually, it’s an astounding aircraft, like something from a 1930s pulp sci-fi magazine. It’s also a triumph of engineering.
Leng says the journey started for him in 2008, when “I just serendipitously stumbled upon the fact that all the key technologies for making electric VTOL human flight practical were coming to a nexus.”
The journey that made Leng’s dream a reality kicked into high gear in 2014 when a chance meeting with investor Sebastian Thrun at an aviation conference led to Google cofounder
Larry Page investing in Leng’s project.
Designing an eVTOL from first principles
Leng started in his basement in 2010, spending his own money on a mélange of home-built and commercially available components. The motors were commercial units that Leng modified himself, the motor controllers were German and off the shelf, the inertial-measurement unit was open source and based on an Arduino microcontroller. The batteries were modified model-aircraft lithium-polymer types.
“The main objective behind this was proof of concept,” he says.“I had to prove it to myself, because up until that point, they were just equations on a piece of paper. I had to get to the point where I knew that this could be practical.”
After his front-yard flight in 2011, there followed several years of refining and rebuilding all of the major components until they achieved the specifications Leng wanted. “Everything on BlackFly is from first principles,” he declares.
The motors started out generating 160 newtons (36 pounds) of static thrust. It was way too low. “I actually tried to purchase motors and motor controllers from companies that manufactured those, and I specifically asked them to customize those motors for me, by suggesting a number of changes,” he says. “I was told that, no, those changes won’t work.”
So he started designing his own brushless AC motors. “I did not want to design motors,” says Leng. “In the end, I was stunned at how much improvement we could make by just applying first principles to this motor design.”
Eleven years after Leng’s flight, no eVTOLs have been delivered to customers or are being produced at commercial scale.
To increase the power density, he had to address the tendency of a motor in an eVTOL to overheat at high thrust, especially during hover, when cooling airflow over the motor is minimal. He began by designing a system to force air through the motor. Then he began working on the rotor of the motor (not to be confused with the rotor wings that lift and propel the aircraft). This is the spinning part of a motor, which is typically a single piece of electrical steel. It’s an iron alloy with very high magnetic permeability.
By layering the steel of the rotor, Leng was able to greatly reduce its heat generation, because the thinner layers of steel limited the eddy currents in the steel that create heat. Less heat meant he could use higher-strength neodymium magnets, which would otherwise become demagnetized. Finally, he rearranged those magnets into a configuration called a Halbach array. In the end Leng’s motors were able to produce 609 newtons (137 lbs.) of thrust.
Overall, the 2-kilogram motors are capable of sustaining 20 kilowatts, for a power density of 10 kilowatts per kilogram, Leng says. It’s an extraordinary figure. One of the few motor manufacturers claiming a density in that range is
H3X Technologies, which says its HPDM-250 clocks in at 12 kw/kg.
Software engineer Bodhi Connolly took a BlackFly eVTOL aircraft for a twilight spin on 29 July 2022, at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wis.
Advanced air mobility for everybody
The brain of the BlackFly consists of three independent flight controllers, which calculate the aircraft’s orientation and position, based on readings from the inertial-measurement units, GPS receivers, and magnetometers. They also use pitot tubes to measure airspeed. The flight controllers continually cross-check their outputs to make sure they agree. They also feed instructions, based on the operator’s movement of the joystick, to the eight motor controllers (one for each motor).
Equipped with these sophisticated flight controllers, the fly-by-wire BlackFly is similar in that regard to the hobbyist drones that rely on processors and clever algorithms to avoid the tricky manipulations of sticks, levers, and pedals required to fly a traditional fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft.
That sophisticated, real-time control will allow a far larger number of people to consider purchasing a BlackFly when it becomes available. In late November, Opener had not disclosed a likely purchase price, but in the past the company had suggested that BlackFly would cost as much as a luxury SUV. So who might buy it? CEO Ken Karklin points to several distinct groups of potential buyers who have little in common other than wealth.
There are early tech adopters and also people who are already aviators and are “passionate about the future of electric flight, who love the idea of being able to have their own personal vertical-takeoff-and-landing, low-maintenance, clean aircraft that they can fly in rural and uncongested areas,” Karklin says. “One of them is a business owner. He has a plant that’s a 22-mile drive but would only be a 14-mile flight, and he wants to install charging infrastructure on either end and wants to use it to commute every day. We love that.”
Others are less certain about how, or even whether, this market segment will establish itself. “When it comes to personal-use eVTOLs, we are really struggling to see the business case,” says Sergio Cecutta, founder and partner at SMG Consulting, where he studies eVTOLs among other high-tech transportation topics. “I’m not saying they won’t sell. It’s how many will they sell?” He notes that Opener is not the only eVTOL maker pursuing a path to success through the ultralight or some other specialized FAA category. As of early November, the list included
Alauda Aeronautics,Air,Alef, Bellwether Industries, Icon Aircraft, Jetson, Lift Aircraft, andRyse Aero Technologies.
What makes Opener special? Both Karklin and Leng emphasize the value of all that surrounds the BlackFly aircraft. For example, there are virtual-reality-based simulators that they say enable them to fully train an operator in 10 to 15 hours. The aircraft themselves are heavily instrumented: “Every flight, literally, there’s over 1,000 parameters that are recorded, some of them at 1,000 hertz, some 100 Hz, 10 Hz, and 1 Hz,” says Leng. “All that information is stored on the aircraft and downloaded to our database at the end of the flight. When we go and make a software change, we can do what’s called regression testing by running that software using all the data from our previous flights. And we can compare the outputs against what the outputs were during any specific flight and can automatically confirm that the changes that we’ve made are without any issues. And we can also compare, to see if they make an improvement.”
Ed Lu, a former NASA astronaut and executive at Google, sits on Opener’s safety-review board. He says what impressed him most when he first met the BlackFly team was “the fact that they had based their entire development around testing. They had a wealth of flight data from flying this vehicle in a drone mode, an unmanned mode.” Having all that data was key. “They could make their decisions based not on analysis, but after real-world operations,” Lu says, adding that he is particularly impressed by Opener’s ability to manage all the flight data. “It allows them to keep track of every aircraft, what sensors are in which aircraft, which versions of code, all the way down to the flights, to what happened in each flight, to videos of what’s happening.” Lu thinks this will be a huge advantage once the aircraft is released into the “real” world.
Karklin declines to comment on whether an ultralight approval, which is governed by what the FAA designates “
Part 103,” might be an opening move toward an FAA type certification in the future. “This is step one for us, and we are going to be very, very focused on personal air vehicles for recreational and fun purposes for the foreseeable future,” he says. “But we’ve also got a working technology stack here and an aircraft architecture that has considerable utility beyond the realm of Part-103 [ultralight] aircraft, both for crewed and uncrewed applications.” Asked what his immediate goals are, Karklin responds without hesitating. “We will be the first eVTOL company, we believe, in serial production, with a small but steadily growing revenue and order book, and with a growing installed base of cloud-connected aircraft that with every flight push all the telemetry, all the flight behavior, all the component behavior, all the operator-behavior data representing all of this up to the cloud, to be ingested by our back office, and processed. And that provides us a lot of opportunity.”
This article appears in the January 2023 print issue as “Finally, an eVTOL You Can Buy Soonish.”
At Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., Lighter Than Air (LTA) Research is floating a new approach to a technology that saw its rise and fall a century ago: airships. Although airships have long since been supplanted by planes, LTA, which was founded in 2015 by CEO Alan Weston, believes that through a combination of new materials, better construction techniques, and technological advancements, airships are poised to—not reclaim the skies, certainly—but find a new niche.
Although airships never died off entirely—the
Goodyear blimps, familiar to sports fans, are proof of that—the industry was already in decline by 1937, the year of the Hindenburg disaster. By the end of World War II, airships couldn’t compete with the speed airplanes offered, and they required larger crews. Today, what airships still linger serve primarily for advertising and sightseeing.
LTA’s Pathfinder 1 carries bigger dreams than hovering over a sports stadium, however. The company sees a natural fit for airships in humanitarian and relief missions. Airships can stay aloft for long periods of time, in case ground conditions aren’t ideal, have a long range, and carry significant payloads, according to
Carl Taussig, LTA’s chief technical officer.
Pathfinder’s cigar-shaped envelope is just over 120 meters in length and 20 meters in diameter. While that dwarfs Goodyear’s current, 75-meter
Wingfoot One, it’s still only half the length of the Hindenburg. LTA expects Pathfinder 1 to carry approximately 4 tonnes of cargo, in addition to its crew, water ballast, and fuel. The airship will have a top speed of 65 knots, or about 120 kilometers per hour—on par with the Hindenburg—with a sustained cruise speed of 35 to 40 knots (65 to 75 km/h).
Some 21st-century Airship Tech
It may not seem much of an advance to be building an airship that flies no faster than the Hindenburg. But Pathfinder 1 carries a lot of new tech that LTA is betting will prove key to an airship resurgence.
For one, airships used to be constructed around riveted aluminum girders, which provided the highest strength-to-weight ratio available at the time. Instead, LTA will be using carbon-fiber tubes attached to titanium hubs. As a result, Pathfinder 1’s primary structure will be both stronger and lighter.
Pathfinder 1’s outer covering is also a step up from past generations. Airships like the 1930s’
Graf Zeppelin had coverings made out of doped cotton canvas. The dope painted on the fabric increased its strength and resiliency. But canvas is still canvas. LTA has instead built its outer coverings out of a three-layer laminate of synthetics. The outermost layer is DuPont’s Tedlar, which is a polyvinyl fluoride. The middle layer is a loose weave of fire-retardant aramid fibers. The inner layer is polyester. “It’s very similar to what’s used in a lot of racing sailboats,” says Taussig. “We needed to modify that material to make it fire resistant and change a little bit about its structural performance.”
But neither the materials science nor the manufacturing advances will take primary credit for LTA’s looked-for success, according to Taussig—instead, it’s the introduction of electronics. “Everything’s electric on Pathfinder,” he says. “All the actuation, all the propulsion, all the actual power is all electrically generated. It’s a fully electric fly-by-wire aircraft, which is not something that was possible 80 years ago.” Pathfinder 1 has 12 electric motors for propulsion, as well as four tail fins with steering rudders controlled by its fly-by-wire system. (During initial test flights, the airship will be powered by two reciprocating aircraft engines).
There’s one other piece of equipment making an appearance on Pathfinder 1 that wasn’t available 80 years ago:
lidar. Installed at the top of each of Pathfinder 1’s helium gas cells is an automotive-grade lidar. “The lidar can give us a point cloud showing the entire internal hull of that gas cell,” says Taussig, which can then be used to determine the gas cell’s volume accurately. In flight, the airship’s pilots can use that information, as well as data about the helium’s purity, pressure, and temperature, to better keep the craft pitched properly and to avoid extra stress on the internal structure during flight.
Although LTA’s initial focus is on humanitarian applications, there are other areas where airships might shine one day. “An airship is kind of a ‘tweener,’ in between sea cargo and air freight,” says Taussig. Being fully electric, Pathfinder 1 is also greener than traditional air- or sea-freight options.
After completing Pathfinder 1’s construction late in 2022, LTA plans to conduct a series of ground tests on each of the airship’s systems in the first part of 2023. Once the team is satisfied with those tests, they’ll move to tethered flight tests and finally untethered flight tests over San Francisco’s South Bay later in the year.
The company will also construct an approximately 180-meter-long airship,
Pathfinder 3 at its Akron Airdock facility in Ohio. Pathfinder 3 won’t be ready to fly in 2023, but its development shows LTA’s aspirations for an airship renaissance is more than just hot air.
This article appears in the January 2023 print issue as “The Return of the Airship.”
The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.
Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.
Both systems offer the prospect of being inexpensive to use. The electric bill itself would range “from US $5 to $10,” for a pulse lasting a few seconds, says Michael Perry, the vice president in charge of laser systems for General Atomics.
Why are we getting ray guns only now, more than a century after H.G. Wells imagined them in his sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds? Put it down partly to the rising demand for cheap antimissile defense, but it’s mainly the result of technical advances in high-energy lasers.
The old standby for powerful lasers employed chemical reactions in flowing gas. That method was clumsy, heavy, and dangerous, and the laser itself became a flammable target for enemies to attack. The advantage was that these chemical lasers could be made immensely powerful, a far cry from the puny pulsed ruby lasers that wowed observers back in the 1960s by punching holes in razor blades (at power levels jocularly measured in “gillettes”).
“With lasers, if you can see it, you can kill it.” —Robert Afzal, Lockheed Martin
By 2014, fiber lasers had reached the point where they could be considered for weapons, and one 30-kW model was installed on the USS Ponce, where it demonstrated the ability to shoot down speedboats and small drones at relatively close range. The 300-kW fiber lasers being employed now in the two Army projects emit about 100 kW in optical power, enough to burn through much heftier targets (not to mention quite a few gillettes) at considerable distances.
“A laser of that class can be effective against a wide variety of targets, including cruise missiles, mortars, UAVs, and aircraft,” says Perry. “But not reentry vehicles [launched by ballistic missiles].” Those are the warheads, and to ward them off, he says, you’d probably have to hit the rocket when it’s still in the boost phase, which would mean placing your laser in orbit. Laser tech is still far from performing such a feat.
Even so, these futuristic weapons will no doubt find plenty of applications in today’s world. Israel made news in April by field-testing an airborne antimissile laser called Iron Beam, a play on the name Iron Dome, the missile system it has used to down rockets fired from Gaza. The laser system, reportedly rated at about 100 kW, is still not in service and hasn’t seen combat, but one day it may be able to replace some, if not all, of Iron Dome’s missiles with photons. Other countries have similar capabilities, or say they do. In May, Russia said it had used a laser to incinerate a Ukrainian drone from 5 kilometers away, a claim that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, derided.
Not all ray guns must be lasers, though. In March, Taiwan News reported that Chinese researchers had built a microwave weapon that in principle could be placed in orbit from where its 5-megawatt pulses could fry the electronic heart of an enemy satellite. But making such a machine in the lab is quite different from operating it in the field, not to mention in outer space, where supplying power and removing waste heat constitute major problems.
Because lasers performance falls off in bad weather, they can’t be relied on by themselves to defend critically important targets. They must instead be paired with kinetic weapons—missiles or bullets—to create a layered defense system.
“With lasers, if you can see it, you can kill it; typically rain and snow are not big deterrents,” says Robert Afzal, an expert on lasers at Lockheed Martin. “But a thundercloud—that’s hard.”
Afzal says that the higher up a laser is placed, the less interference it will face, but there is a trade-off. “With an airplane you have the least amount of resources—least volume, least weight—that is available to you. On a ship, you have a lot more resources available, but you’re in the maritime atmosphere, which is pretty hazy, so you may need a lot more power to get to the target. And the Army is in between: It deals with closer threats, like rockets and mortars, and they need a deep magazine, because they deal with a lot more targets.”
In every case, the point is to use expensive antimissile missiles only when you must. Israel opted to pursue laser weapons in part because its Iron Dome missiles cost so much more than the unguided, largely homemade rockets they defend against. Some of the military drones that Russia and Ukraine are now flying wouldn’t break the budget of the better-heeled sort of hobbyist. And it would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed to shoot them from the sky with projectiles so costly that you went broke.
This article appears in the January 2023 print issue as “Economics Drives a Ray-Gun Resurgence .”