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Power Businesses Transportation Technology

Boeing-Backed, Hybrid-Electric Commuter Plane To Hit Market In 2022 (reuters.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A Seattle-area startup, backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing and JetBlue announced plans on Thursday to bring a small hybrid-electric commuter aircraft to market by 2022. The small airliner is the first of several planes planned by Zunum Aero, which said it would seat up to 12 passengers and be powered by two electric motors, dramatically reducing the travel time and cost of trips under 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Zunum's plans and timetable underscore a rush to develop small electric aircraft based on rapidly evolving battery technology and artificial intelligence systems that avoid obstacles on a road or in the sky. In a separate but related development, Boeing said on Thursday it plans to acquire a company that specializes in electric and autonomous flight to help its own efforts to develop such aircraft. Zunum's planes would fly from thousands of small airports around big cities to cut regional travel times and costs.
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Boeing-Backed, Hybrid-Electric Commuter Plane To Hit Market In 2022

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  • I haven't seen any good information on why drone technology can't simply be scaled up in size to carry passengers. Seems like we already have the technology to solve traffic and other problems. We just need to supersize it.

    • I'm assuming you mean drones like multi-rotor type, not the Reaper type. I'm guessing there will be a critical point in the physics somewhere where the battery weight curve, power curves, and passenger weight curves all intersect, beyond which it will take another tech leap to achieve. But yeah, seems like for at least a few passengers it should scale.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, it's just that simple. Just make big drones. Since it's that simple, that's probably why we've seen so many companies do it already.

      Man! After 20 years the quality of the commenters here at /. really has dropped off. Is there anyone else here who actually works in any sort of a technological industry?! Sometimes I think not!

      • Yeah, it's just that simple. Just make big drones. Since it's that simple, that's probably why we've seen so many companies do it already.

        Man! After 20 years the quality of the commenters here at /. really has dropped off. Is there anyone else here who actually works in any sort of a technological industry?! Sometimes I think not!

        Moron. I didn't say it was simple. I asked for information on why it wasn't simple.

    • It can be and already has been, but it requires a pilot's license and air traffic control. So the more people you carry, the greater the efficiency not only in terms of energy per person-mile but in terms of pilot costs per person-mile and traffic control cost per person-mile.
    • I haven't seen any good information on why drone technology can't simply be scaled up in size to carry passengers. Seems like we already have the technology to solve traffic and other problems. We just need to supersize it.

      Copter style flight requires much more energy than winged flight.

      • by tsqr ( 808554 )

        I haven't seen any good information on why drone technology can't simply be scaled up in size to carry passengers. Seems like we already have the technology to solve traffic and other problems. We just need to supersize it.

        Copter style flight requires much more energy than winged flight.

        Which is why all of the long-range, long-endurance unmanned aircraft look like traditional winged aircraft rather than helicopters or quads. "Drone" does not mean "copter style".

        • "Drone" does not mean "copter style".

          True, but I think that is what the OP had in mind when he talked about 'scaling up'. Aircraft type drones are typically not VTOL, but Amazon was looking at a copter/wing hybrid for package delivery.

          • Worth pointing out most consumer drones consist of a battery, aircraft, and a PCB with (maybe) a camera. In other words, there's no payload. And consumer drones will not go 10 miles on a charge, much less 100 miles or 1000 on a charge. Again, this is while carrying no real payload.
    • by joh ( 27088 )

      If you mean multi-rotor aircraft without wings: It's because they need to accelerate upwards with one g all the time just to not drop out of the sky. This is cool for being able to whip around at will, but very bad for efficiency.

      But yes, you could possibly build a kind of hybrid helicopter this way. Generate power with a gasoline powered motor and use it to power some electric rotors. You'd trade some efficiency losses against more control and maybe more reliability, especially if you use two redundant mot

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @04:23PM (#55317909) Journal

      Quadcopter don't scale. I assume that's what you meant - virtually all of the toy and hobby "drones" are quadcopters.

      The power produced by a propeller is proportional to it's length.
      The weight of a craft, however, is proportional to it's length X width X height.

      Suppose we have a toy that's 1 foot X 1 X 1. It's one cubic foot. Perhaps it weighs one pound. The 1 foot prop needs to make 1 pound of thrust.

      Now we scale that "ten times bigger". Now the dimensions are 10x10x10. That's 1,000 cubic feet! "Ten times the size" is about a THOUSAND times the weight. But our prop is only ten times as long, so it makes ten times the thrust, enough to lift TEN pounds, not a thousand pounds.

      In other words, as the size of craft increases, weight increases with roughly the size (length) CUBED. Prop thrust only increases directly proportional to size (length).

      It's therefore therefore relatively easy to lift a small craft with props, but the power requirements go up real fast as the size increases, until you basically hit a wall of impossible physics. The largest helicopters that can be physically built carry about 40 people, whereas an A380 plane seats 853 people.

    • Drones are not that efficient. Their energy consumption so high even a fossil fuel powered drone will not have enough range.
    • I suppose you might be referring to the SureFly [flyer.co.uk], which is a hybrid. This looks fairly promising at the spec level given that it does not seem to rely an a new generation of battery technology.

      Actually I think its biggest problem will be cabin noise. So many of these concepts never get off the ground for seemingly trivial reasons, so to speak.

    • So many problems are solved by working in three dimensions. And moving up off the ground -- where dogs, children, pedestrians, sheep and every other thing you can think of lives or stands to impede and surprise -- makes many problems trivial. Line of sight to talk with other vehicles is also a bonus. I see far fewer problems to solve with an airborne autonomy than with ground based autonomy. Although other problems do materialize, of course.

      Much air travel is already autonomous truth be known. But such a c

    • I haven't seen any good information on why drone technology can't simply be scaled up in size to carry passengers. Seems like we already have the technology to solve traffic and other problems. We just need to supersize it.

      Then consider this:

      Quadcopters are controlled by varying the speed of their individual rotors. That is all fine as long as the rotors stay small. If they are scaled up, their moment of inertia scales with the fifth power of the dimensional change. The time-to-double of an instability, however, would only scale with the square root of the dimensional change. Result: You will need massively more torque to keep the thing under control.

      No, there is hard evidence why scaling up will not work. You were just t

  • no one on board to prevent passenger problems?
    • by tsqr ( 808554 )

      no one on board to prevent passenger problems?

      The article said "remotely piloted", not "no flight attendant".

      • I haven't flown on such flights myself but I've heard stories of people getting on planes and being greeted by a person they assume to be the flight attendant. This person will show them to their seats, give them their safety briefing, perhaps even hand out drinks and snacks, and then go to the flight deck and help fly the plane.

        I don't know exactly what size of a plane would have only a crew of two, 40 or fewer perhaps. In those cases the flight attendant is the co-pilot. If there's something like 20 or

        • by tsqr ( 808554 )

          Crew cost isn't the only factor, but commercial pilots make a lot more money than flight attendants even though they aren't as highly paid as they used to be. average commercial pilot salary [salary.com] is about $129K, with a range usually between $112K-$146K. Average flight attendant salary [salary.com] is about $72K, with a range usually between $58K-$89K. As the AC pointed out in his reply, the cost and added weight of a cockpit in a remotely-piloted aircraft is a much larger factor.

  • Even the best batteries suck in terms of energy density. Planes require a lot of fuel. Batteries are heavy. Planes need light loads. The carbon composite airframes help to a degree but this is something that can be applied to traditional aircraft.

    I could see fuel cells working. Or electric generation. Nothing wrong with electric motors. Batteries seem like a dead end though.
    • The problem with heat engines for short hops is damage to engines caused by the thermal cycling. Its worst for glider tugs which are on full power for a few minutes, then nothing at all, but it does affect short distance commuter aircraft as well. This is why electric drivelines are being considered for short distance commuting, and why a gas turbine APU makes sense on these aircraft because it will be used to extend cruise.

      I can imagine heavy and super heavy airliners using electric boosted fans down the t

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