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TECH TALK


PERSONAL AIR VEHICLES ARE COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD (SKIES) SOON


BY JOHN PAWLICKI | OPM RESEARCH


PEOPLE-CARRYING DRONES, FLYING CARS, PERSONAL VTOL CRAFT, HYPERLOOPS (WHICH, ARE TECHNICALLY FLYING), AND ‘UBER FOR THE SKIES’ SIGNIFY THAT WE ARE ABOUT TO ENTER INTO THE NEXT ERA OF AVIATION. AS MUCH AS SOME READERS WILL BE AMUSED BY THIS STATEMENT, WE ARE MUCH CLOSER TO SEEING SOME OF THESE IDEAS REACH THE MARKET THAN EVER BEFORE. THIS COLUMN HAS COVERED SOME OF THESE CONCEPTS PREVIOUSLY, AND WE WILL RE-VISIT KEY TOPICS WITH UPDATED INFORMATION.


The most appropriate term by which to encompass this emerging market comes courtesy of NASA, when back in 2003 they coined the phrase personal air vehicle (PAV). NASA established the Personal Air Vehicle Sector Project, which was part of a larger innovation eff ort for various types of pioneering air transport technologies. The PAV label seems to fallen into disuse as many of the ideas did not come into fruition as planned, but it seems appropriate now.


IS THERE A MARKET FOR ANY


OF THESE? There are various aviation market pundits that have questioned the marketing plans of some of these ventures, and rightfully so. However, history has taught us that it is diffi cult to predict new market niches. A recent examples of this is from Boeing and Airbus, and Boeing has been proven right with its approach. When Airbus began developing the A380, it had thought that economies of scale would drive sales of this airplane, and that it would make the airline hub-and-spoke model even more dominant. Boeing thought otherwise and launched the B787, predicting that the point-to-point strategy for passenger travel would be more attractive, and they have


18 DOMmagazine.com | july 2017


been more correct (although hub- and-spoke is here to stay for the foreseeable future). While I am glossing over many key economic drivers (such as the need for airports to expand runways and jet bridges …), the key aviation industry lesson is the obvious one, that people rather fl y direct to their destination as a tradeoff to a slightly lower airfare (and more connecting fl ights). This notion has driven the growth in fractional jet ownership (which has extended the reach of business jets to more clients) and air taxi/charter services, which mostly cater to an on- demand, point-to-point audience. Hence, the logical extension is that shorter fl ights from new air vehicles would extend this type of market direction even more, aimed at localized air travel.


DRONES + SELF-DRIVING


CARS = CHANGE TO AVIATION With the drone market booming, some of the innovations found here are having a direct eff ect upon passenger-carrying aircraft. GPS and enhanced sensoring technologies have combined to create Waypoint GPS Navigation. This capability allows a drone to fl y on its own to a destination or via a pre-planned fl ying path, and is part of certain drone remote control navigational


software suites. It provides the drone with detailed fl ight instructions (destination, fl ight height and speed, and if it should hover at a waypoint and for how long, etc.). This is the key enabler behind how autonomous passenger-carrying drones (more on this later) will operate. This builds off of the self-driving


cars and trucks which are being experimented with by dozens of companies around the world. All of this is enabled by a simple user interface via an app on a smartphone, driven by GPS, monitored and adjusted by smarter sensors on a vehicle which communicate with their environment (to avoid hazards, traffi c jams, weather events, birds) and by expanded wireless communications supporting vehicle- to-vehicle communications, creating mesh networks by which to exchange data with other nearby PAVs to better manage a journey more effi ciently. Whew. And wow. In fact, it can be argued that the


surface transportation market is simply copying some of this from aviation, as the NextGen concept is being adapted for use by cars and trucks, but, in a much more expanded manner. The same goes for collision- avoidance systems, terrain-awareness warning systems, etc. Aviation should be fl attered.


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