From the Wright brothers’ historic flight in 1903 to the development of supersonic aircraft, the history of aviation has been driven by technology and ambition.
Now, as the 21st century progresses, the sector continues to show its appetite for innovation and radical design.
Last September, for instance, a hydrogen fuel-cell plane capable of carrying passengers took to the skies over England for its maiden flight.
The same month also saw Airbus release details of three hydrogen-fueled concept planes, with the European aerospace giant claiming they could enter service by the year 2035.
More recently, United Airlines announced it had signed a commercial agreement to purchase aircraft from a firm called Boom Supersonic.
In a statement, United said the Overture aircraft — which is yet to be built — was set to be “optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.”
All of the above are linked by a focus on technologies designed to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint. This represents a major task, even if the number of flights last year slumped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the International Energy Agency, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation “have risen rapidly over the past two decades,” hitting almost 1 gigatonne in 2019. This, it notes, equates to “about 2.8% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.”
Elsewhere, the World Wildlife Fund describes aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.” It adds that air travel is “currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make.”
A variety of solutions
Iain Gray is director of aerospace at the U.K.’s Cranfield University. In a phone interview with CNBC, he described zero carbon as “the top priority” for the industry and sought to emphasize the importance of developing a range of solutions to tackle the challenge.
“The really big technology driver is around the propulsion system,” he explained, “but that doesn’t take away from the importance of new technologies around … new lightweight materials, enhanced carbon composite materials, and the systems itself.”
Expanding on his point, Gray provided an example of why the innovations on planes flying above our heads should not be viewed in isolation.
“There’s a lot of effort goes into reducing the weight on an aeroplane for it only to spend half an hour circling an airport,” he said.
“So the whole interaction of air traffic management with the aircraft itself is a … very important development and new technologies on airspace management are emerging all the time.”
The power of propulsion
Alongside the development of hydrogen fuel-cell planes there’s also been a lot of discussion around electric propulsion in recent years, with firms such as Volocopter and Lilium developing eVTOL, or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
The key with technologies such as these is the types of journeys to which they can be applied.
“If you look at hydrogen fuel cells and you look at batteries, that really is very much aimed at the smaller aircraft, that’s the sub 1,000 kilometer range,” Cranfield’s Iain Gray said.
“You have to do that in a zero carbon way, there’s no question,” he added. “Is that going to make a big difference to the overall CO2 contributions that aviation makes? No.”
“We need to focus on the longer range flights, flights greater than 1,000 kilometers, flights greater than 3,000 kilometers in particular.”
This focus on long-haul trips will be important in the years ahead, even though they make up a small proportion of flights.
According to a sustainability briefing from Eurocontrol published earlier this year, “some 6% of flights from European airports were long-haul” in 2020, measuring over 4,000 kilometers (around 2,485 miles) in length.
The intergovernmental organization went on to state that “more than half of European aviation’s CO2 emissions were from this tiny proportion of the overall number of flights.”
This viewpoint was echoed by Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, a campaign group headquartered in Brussels.
“We shouldn’t forget that the biggest chunk of aviation emissions are linked to long haul flights because you fly longer, you fly higher,” she told CNBC.
“So all in all you’re producing more CO2 … those long haul flights can only be decarbonized by replacing the kerosene that they’re using.”
It’s on these longer journeys that sustainable aviation fuel could have a significant role to play in the future.
Although the European Union Aviation Safety Agency says there’s “not a single internationally agreed definition” of sustainable aviation fuel, the overarching idea is that it can be used to reduce an aircraft’s emissions.
For its part, Airbus describes SAF as being “made from renewable raw material.” It adds that the most common feedstocks are based on crops or used cooking oil and animal fat.
“Currently, the big challenges of sustainable aviation fuel are producing it in the right volumes that are required, and at the right cost point,” Cranfield’s Gray said.
The provenance of feedstocks used for SAF is also important, he explained. “If what you’re doing … to produce sustainable aviation fuel is transporting fuel right across the world using feedstocks from the other side of the planet, then is it really sustainable?”
“The big effort at the moment is looking at how you can produce sustainable aviation fuels in a … green way.” This could be fuel from waste or local resources, Gray added.
One type of fuel generating interest is e-kerosene, which also goes by the name of synthetic kerosene. According to a briefing from T&E published in February, e-kerosene is produced by combining carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
“What’s great about it is that it can be dropped into these jets without any modification of the engine and of the technology of the plane,” Dardenne said.
“It’s a carbon neutral fuel, it’s something that can be easily dropped in,” she added. “The only problem is that it’s very expensive.”
Driving cost down will indeed be key in the years ahead, but organizations like T&E are keen to emphasize the potential environmental benefits of using it.
If the CO2 is “captured from the atmosphere” and hydrogen produced using renewables, T&E says “the combustion of e-kerosene will, apart from some residual emissions, be close to CO2 neutral.”
While technology may be developing, the world also needs to come up with rules and regulations focused on the environmental footprint of air travel.
Examples of these efforts include the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation and the European Union including carbon dioxide emissions from aviation in its emissions trading system since the year 2012.
In her interview with CNBC, T&E’s Dardenne stressed the importance of “proper regulation.”
She said: “If you price emissions and pollution effectively, then mandate the use of clean technologies, you send the right signals to investors, private and public, to invest in them.”
“The clearer the regulatory framework the more certainty you can provide to the market that these technologies will have a future,” she added.
“And that will actually bring added value, financial added value, as well as environmental added value.”
Looking at the bigger picture, she went on to state that “proper regulation” would come via effective carbon pricing and fuel mandates, describing the latter as an obligation to use clean fuels. These were, she argued, “the cornerstone of effective aviation decarbonization strategy.”
Tesla releases stealth update with new features
Tesla has released a new software update to its fleet and while the release notes remain unchanged, there are a few exciting features that were stealth updated.
The automaker has started to push its 2023.11.4.2 software update.
The update’s release notes are the same as the previous update, but Tesla often updates or adds features without discussing them.
That’s the case with this new update, according to Green, a well-known Tesla hacker who often discovers new features inside Tesla’s code.
He reported that the latest update includes several stealth changes:
Like most premium vehicles today, Tesla has an automatic wiper system that automatically matches the speed of the wipers to the intensity of the rain or snow.
However, unlike most other automakers, Tesla doesn’t use a rain sensor for its system.
Instead, the automaker is using its Autopilot cameras to feed its computer vision neural net to determine the speed for the wipers.
It has been deployed in Tesla vehicles since 2018, but many owners have been complaining that it is not as accurate as other systems using rain sensors.
Tesla’s solution was an update called ‘Deep Rain’ that used a new neural net to power the feature. It came out in 2019, but it was a marginal improvement.
Now Green reports that owners can shut it down if they don’t like it.
Another important stealth update for safety in this new software update is the ability for automatic emergency braking (AEB) to brake for vehicles cutting into your lane. Previously, it would try to avoid things with steering, but AEB was reserved to prevent or reduce the impact for something blocking your way.
For FSD Beta users, the update also now reduces suspensions, which occur after misuse, like not paying attention to the road when using, to one week instead to two weeks.
America’s first US-built electric mini-truck begins street-legal homologation
The AYRO Vanish has grabbed headlines over the past year as it rolls ever closer to production at AYRO’s Texas factory. Now the electric mini-truck’s final step ahead of manufacturing has begun as the Vanish starts street-legal homologation.
The AYRO Vanish is an electric utility vehicle that is designed to fit into the low-speed vehicle (LSV) federal designation. The mini-truck uses a lightweight architecture to limit the entire vehicle weight and maximize the allowable payload.
The Vanish boasts a payload of up to 1,200 lb (544 kg), which is fairly close to many standard-sized pickup trucks. For comparison, a 2023 Ford F-150’s payload capacity starts at 1,310 lb (594 kg). The company also indicated that it plans to produce a non-street legal variant that will have a higher payload capacity of 1,800 pounds (816 kg). That model would be applicable to work sites, campuses and other areas where use on public roads is not required.
Unlike standard pickup trucks, the Vanish offers highly adaptable configurations. Optional rear cargo configurations including food boxes, flat beds, utility beds with three-sided tailgates, and van boxes for secure storage all point to potential commercial applications for the vehicle.
And those future commercial customers could be getting their hands on the Vanish’s steering wheel sooner rather than later. Heading for homologation testing means that the company is now closer than ever to putting those various designs on the road.
As AYRO CEO Tom Wittenschlaeger explained:
“Now that we’ve completed our internal testing, it’s time to ensure that the award-winning Vanish meets requirements of our national governing bodies. Once we’ve completed this process and receive final approval, we can begin delivering vehicles to our customers and dealers.”
In order for any road-worthy vehicle to be considered for sale, the vehicle must go through homologation to ensure it is safe and complies with government regulations.
LSVs have reduced regulatory hurdles, but there are still many safety requirements and design considerations to be addressed. The vehicles must meet regulations for the construction, design, durability, and performance requirements as outlined by federal governing bodies. In the US, this process is governed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
This complex process of homologation allows for vehicles to be officially classified by date and category as well as have official and certifiable technical information and specifications. The Vanish is completing homologation for both the United States and Canada, for which testing includes the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 500, Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) 500 and California Air Resources Board (C.A.R.B.).
In parallel with its homologation phase, AYRO is now planning to begin Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) by early June to begin building the first 50 Vanish units that will be used as demo models for signed dealers.
The company plans to enter full-scale production upon the successful completion of its first 50 units.
As AYRO’s senior vice president of programs added:
“Our team has worked diligently to prepare for this day. This is one of the final steps in our product development process. Concurrently with homologation, we plan to begin LRIP and immediately following begin delivering vehicles to our customers and dealers.”
The AYRO Vanish opened for orders earlier this month, launching at a starting price of $33,990. While that price is more expensive than several other imported electric mini-trucks, the Vanish’s modular design (and soon-to-be street legal status) is a key differentiator.
AYRO’s vice president of Dealer Sales, Terry Kahl, previously explained the advantages of a modular platform:
With swappable bed configurations, we believe dealers can find a use case for the Vanish with almost any of their existing clientele. We have indications of interest from a rapidly growing number of dealers and now incoming dealers can find added value in that AYRO is accepting their pre-orders even before they join our dealer network. It should be an absolute win-win for our existing and onboarding dealers as well as future dealers.
WAU Project Cyber teased as ‘revolutionary’ high performance electric bike
We see new e-bike launches practically every week here at Electrek, but we rarely seem something quite so… futuristic looking as the upcoming WAU model currently being teased. The UK-based electric bike company is dripping out imagines of its upcoming Project Cyber, which looks like something between a high performance electric bicycle and a light electric motorcycle.
It’s not uncommon for e-bike companies to expand into the moped or light motorbike space. We watched it happen with SONDORS when the company unveiled the Metacycle, SUPER73 with the C1X, and several other smaller e-bike companies.
And while we don’t yet know how the Project Cyber e-bike will be classified, it’s certainly looking like it could be headed in a similarly aggressive direction.
WAU is best known for its long range, urban-oriented electric bikes with enclosed frames and iconic seat stay tail lights that also serve as highly visible turn signals.
It’s a welcome, distinguished design that sets itself apart from many of the other cookie cutter e-bikes we’ve seen over the last few years.
And it appears that WAU may be sticking with some of the same design language for its upcoming Project Cyber, based on the first few teaser images.
The company has been dripping out images and information in a Facebook group set up for sharing details about the upcoming e-bike.
One of the more revealing pieces of information includes a set of design drawings from early in the project. Multiple concepts can be seen, including some with and without bicycle pedals.
The inclusion of bicycle pedals would lend credence to this being a high performance e-bike, while a lack of pedals would put the two-wheeler into light motorbike territority.
WAU seems to be investing heavily in the bike’s technology, though it isn’t quite clear yet what that could mean in terms of features. Many new e-bikes have started to feature advanced connectivity features closer to that of electric cars, including telemetrics and remote operations. A teaser on the company’s site seems to imply that built-in GPS tracking may be included on the WAU Cyber e-bike.
The company is still playing it close to the vest with most details, but suggests that the new model could “revolutionize the industry.”
As WAU explained in the Facebook group description, “Get ready to be blown away by the most stylish pedelec the world has ever seen. Our state-of-the-art technology and design are set to revolutionize the industry, and we are thrilled to have you join us on this journey.”
The company also released several images showing a prototype frame being welded together, seen below.
We don’t yet know what else the WAU Cyber will hold in store for us, but with the reveal expected to come soon, we shouldn’t have to wait for long.
What do you think WAU will unveil as part of Project Cyber? Share your thoughts and guesses in the comment section below.
We’ll be sure to update as soon as we have more information on the upcoming e-bike.
Sports7 months ago
‘Storybook stuff’: Inside the night Bryce Harper sent the Phillies to the World Series
Technology2 years ago
Game consoles were once banned in China. Now Chinese developers want a slice of the $49 billion pie
Sports2 years ago
Team Europe easily wins 4th straight Laver Cup
Politics1 year ago
Have the last few wobbly weeks seen a turning point for Johnson as PM?
Business8 months ago
Bank of England’s extraordinary response to government policy is almost unthinkable | Ed Conway
Politics1 year ago
Yvette Cooper promoted and Lisa Nandy to shadow Gove on levelling up brief in Labour reshuffle
Business8 months ago
Liz Truss’s ‘favourite’ economist says chancellor ‘took his eye off ball’ and ‘overstepped the mark’ with mini-budget
Videos8 months ago
World leaders come together for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral