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AI

Why Airbus is betting on AI to fix pilot shortage, flight safety

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As airline passengers slog through a summer of rampant flight delays and cancellations, airlines are grappling with a massive post-pandemic increase in air travel demand and a long-term pilot shortage – while also prioritizing safety. Aerospace leader Airbus is betting autonomous and AI-driven commercial flight functions can bridge that gap. 

Wayfinder, a research project within Acubed, the Silicon Valley innovation center of Airbus, is developing autonomous flight and machine learning solutions for the next generation of aircraft. Its core mission is to build a “scalable, certifiable autonomy system capable of powering a range of self-piloted aircraft applications in single pilot operations.”

“Industry estimates expect passenger volume to grow from pre-COVID levels of 4 billion passengers a year to 8 billion – a little more than the current world population –  in about 15-20 years,” Airbus’ Wayfinder project executive, Arne Stoschek, told VentureBeat. “It’s a massive, massive scaling topic.” 

This means there will be more aircraft flying and more flights to manage, he explained, while at the same time Airbus and the commercial aviation industry need to keep increasing safety — which they say is a top priority — in mind. 

Autonomous functions to increase safety on Airbus aircraft

Wayfinder’s immediate goal, said Stotschek, is to develop autonomous functions to make aircraft operations safer – which can include supporting the pilot to better understand the environment and come to the right decisions. There is also ongoing discussion around single-pilot operation, meaning reducing the crew from several pilots to one, which would also mean a shift in pilot responsibility. 

“Autonomy is not a goal per se,” he said. “The main goal that we consider in the framework of technology is operational safety.”

The history of aviation, he added, is a continuum of automation – the current generation of aircraft is already highly automated and “each of those steps has substantially contributed to safety. This is the next big step.” 

Amid a pilot shortage that is forcing airlines to reduce the number of flights and raise the retirement age, Airbus’ autonomous flight efforts are already moving toward the goal of single-pilot operations. Last year, Acubed began flights in California to advance autonomous technology that will make the next redesigned narrow body aircraft capable of single-pilot operation.

“We certainly believe that the next generation of single-aisle aircraft will be single-pilot capable,” former Acubed executive, Mark Cousin, told FlightGlobal in 2020, noting that any single-pilot commercial aircraft will need advanced autonomous systems capable of taking over and landing should the pilot become incapacitated.

Gathering aircraft data is a challenge

One of the biggest challenges Wayfinder faces, said Stotschek, is dealing with the complexity of aircraft data. It requires scaling the data to reflect all types of conditions – including takeoff, landing, daytime, nighttime, snow storms and several thousands of different airports. 

“AI and machine learning technologies have to promise to provide this type of robustness, so the key is to have training and testing data,” said Stotschek. 

In an autonomous car, that is fairly straightforward with human drivers, or by purchasing high-quality annotated data. For large commercial aircraft, however, it’s a different story. 

“There are many steps you need to take in order to operate in a safe way,” he said. “So a lot of it is building the groundwork to get the ball rolling. We spend a lot of time collecting relevant data, determining what is relevant data and processing data in terms of safety certification.” 

In a blog post, Stotschek described Wayfinder’s goal this way: “We plan to observe the work that experienced pilots are doing every day, and then aggregate this data on a massive scale to train our machine learning models. As a rule, when a pilot retires, their experience is lost forever, but with our model, their contributions will endure. The historical data we gain from them will always be accessible to our AI systems, contributing to their continual learning and improvement. With this approach, we believe our AI system can eventually match the abilities of human pilots, bringing to life the business case of urban mobility and easing the strain put on pilots already in the field.”

Airbus seeks commercial viability of autonomous solutions

As Wayfinder continues to advance its ML and autonomous software solutions, Stotschek says its technologies will likely be commercially viable in the not-too-distant future. 

In 2020, he explained, Wayfinder had the opportunity to apply its ML and autonomy technologies developed in an Airbus technology demonstrator for autonomous taxi takeoff and landing.

“Since then, we have been focusing on the next steps beyond a technology demonstrator and towards a commercially viable solution, which includes aspects of scalability and the demonstration of safety,” he said. “This is a big undertaking that requires tens of petabytes of global data and encompasses all schemes and modes of operations that an aircraft is experiencing.” 

Wayfinder developed the processes and tools to create simulation runs in the order of millions, continuously improving and expanding its data, as well as testing its software against many scenarios so that it can expand the technology to any airport Airbus’ aircraft fly into, under all conditions the aircraft can experience.

Recent achievements, Stotschek added, include developing a new framework for assessing the safety and robustness of ML models that he expects significantly to improve the certification process. It received support, he said, both within and outside Airbus. 

“Our detection models also achieved very high levels of accuracy while being an order of magnitude smaller and faster than standard detection models in the industry,” he said. “Having compact and fast detection models is an important consideration for product realizations to run on on-aircraft computers.” 

Wayfinder is also setting up toolchains that will help rapidly move algorithm development to hardware-software implementation in a physical lab to hardware-software implementation on an actual aircraft, he explained. 

“The focus is to create processes that utilize the advantages of agile software development while ensuring stringent development and testing procedures mandated in our industry are followed” he said. 

From proof-of-concept to product-ready

The bottom line, says Stotschek, is that the goal is to move from a proof of concept, where Wayfinder shows AI applicable for a couple of test flights, to the realization that it’s really product-ready.

“That means it works for a global rollout. It works with the aircraft systems. It’s safe. It gets signed off by the regulatory bodies and is integrated into a product,” he said. “Once those types of core technologies are resolved, there’s a whole new world of applications and opportunities you can put on top of that. The availability of technology is just a first step in transforming the industry. That is the holy grail.”

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Game

‘Flight Simulator: GOTY Edition’ adds new aircraft and locations on November 18th

Microsoft is spicing up Flight Simulator with an expanded re-release, although this one may be more ambitious than some. It’s releasing Flight Simulator: Game of the Year Edition on November 18th with both a heaping of new content as well as some meaningful feature upgrades. To start, there are five new stand-out aircraft, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet — you won’t have to wait until the Top Gun expansion to buzz the tower in a fighter jet. You’ll also get to fly the VoloCity air taxi, PC-6 Porter short-takeoff aircraft, the bush flying-oriented NX Cub and the single-seat Aviat Pitts Special S1S.

The GOTY upgrade adds eight airports, including Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Patrick Space Force Base. Eight cities will get photogrammetry detail upgrades, such as Helsinki, Nottinghm and Utrecht. There are accordingly new tutorials (such as bush flying and IFR) and Discovery Flights.

The update adds useful features, too. You’ll have early access to DirectX 12 features, an improved weather system and a developer mode replay system, among other improvements.

Most notably, you won’t have to pay for any of this as a veteran player— existing Flight Simulator owners will receive a free update on both Windows PCs and Xbox Series X/S. The paid GOTY release exists chiefly to entice first-timers. For everyone else, this is billed as a “thank you” upgrade that could keep them coming back.

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Game

Microsoft Flight Simulator Game of the Year Edition announced: Here’s what’s new

After letting the franchise sit dormant for several years, Microsoft teamed with Asobo Studio to launch Microsoft Flight Simulator in 2020. In the time since then, we’ve seen Microsoft Flight Simulator get six world updates in addition to many smaller updates. Now the companies have announced Microsoft Flight Simulator: Game of the Year Edition, which is launching next month with a collection of upgrades.

Asobo Studio started off today’s announcement post by revealing a completely separate event: a Windows 11 collaboration. From today until November 18th, there are 11 landmarks around the world that will be lit up in “Windows Blue.” Asobo Studio doesn’t reveal what those landmarks are, so it sounds like it’s up to the community to find them. In addition, the EXTRA 330LT is getting a Windows 11 livery as part of this event.

The Windows 11 collaboration takes us right to the release date of the Game of the Year Edition, which is launching on November 18th. The Game of the Year Edition will add five aircraft to the game: the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (which is the first military jet being added to the game ahead of next year’s Top Gun: Maverick expansion), VoloCity, Pilatus PC-6 Porter, CubCrafters NX Cub, and the Aviat Pitts Special S1S.

In addition, eight handcrafted airports from Germany, Switzerland, and the United States will be added to the game. Players will be able to visit Leipzig/Halle (EDDP), Allgäu Airport Memmingen (EDJA), and Kassel (EDVK) from Germany; Lugano (LSZA), Zurich (LSZH), and Luzern-Beromunster (LSZO) from Switzerland; and Patrick Space Force Base (KCOF) and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (KNKX) from the United States.

Add to that new missions, tutorials, updated weather systems, early DX12 support, and new photogrammetry cities, and it sounds like this is quite the upgrade. The Game of the Year content will be free for those who already own Microsoft Flight Simulator on PC and Xbox Series X/S, and it will be launching on November 18th.

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Game

Helicopters are coming to Microsoft Flight Simulator, but there’s bad news

As the name suggests, Microsoft Flight Simulator is all about flying, but thus far, that’s been limited to flying in planes. While there’s a wide range of planes available in Microsoft Flight Simulator, from small single-engine planes like the Cessna 172 to massive passenger airliners like the Boeing 747-8, we’re still limited to flying planes at the end of the day. Thankfully, it appears that’s all changing next year, as Asobo Studio has confirmed that helicopters are coming to the game.

This was revealed without much fanfare in a recent developer update published on the Flight Simulator website. Much of that developer update is centered around a new partnership with Orbis International that will allow Microsoft Flight Simulator players to tour the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital in-game. That promotion will be going live on July 27th as a free download for all Flight Simulator players, so keep an eye out for that.

Below that announcement, Asobo Studio posted the Development Roadmap as of June 2021, which takes us through September. That, however, was accompanied by a feedback snapshot for Microsoft Flight Simulator, showing all of the user suggestions that have been collected from the Flight Simulator forums. First on the list with a whopping 1,506 votes from the player base is a suggestion titled “Helicopters are a Must.”

That feedback snapshot reveals that helicopters are indeed planned for Microsoft Flight Simulator, but the bad news is that they won’t be arriving until 2022. Since the feature is only in the planning stages, it’ll probably be quite some time before we hear more about them, but it’s nice to know that they’re coming regardless.

Some other incoming features revealed by the “Top Wishes” list include multiple screen functionality (planned for 2021-22), replay functionality (2021), and even the addition of AI-controlled trains – but those won’t be arriving until 2023. We’ll keep an ear to the ground for more on helicopters in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but otherwise, look out for the game’s launch on Xbox Series X|S on July 27th.

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Tech News

Flying Car Makes History With First Intercity Flight

A vehicle capable of flying in the sky and driving on the road completed a momentous  journey this week.

Stefan Klein, founder and CEO of research and development company Klein Vision, drove his prototype AirCar to Nitra international airport in Slovakia before motoring down the runway and taking off. He then flew the 35-minute route to Bratislava and, after landing at the city’s airport, drove the two-passenger vehicle to the downtown area three minutes away. A video (above) shows key moments from the incredible ride.

Klein has been developing a flying car for the last 20 years. His vehicle has already taken more than 140 test flights, but this week’s outing was the team’s most ambitious effort to date.

With the simple push of a button, the dual-mode vehicle retracts/deploys its wings and tail in a mere 135 seconds, enabling it to hit the road or take to the skies.

The gasoline-powered AirCar uses a BMW engine and a fixed propeller. It has a maximum cruising speed of 119 mph (190 kph) and has flown as high as 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). The next version of the AirCar is expected to have a top cruising speed of 186 mph (300 kph) and be able to travel as far as 621 miles (1,000 km) on a single tank of fuel.

There has been growing interest in so-called “flying cars” in recent years — Digital Trends profiles some of the leading designs — though most vehicles can only fly and have no ability to transform into a roadworthy automobile. However, unlike the AirCar, many of the vehicles can take off and land vertically, making them ideal for travel in urban areas. They’re also electric, whereas the AirCar currently requires gasoline.

Still, Klein’s focus has been on something that’s truly worthy of the “flying car” label.

“This flight starts a new era of dual-transportation vehicles,” the inventor said in a release. “It opens a new category of transportation and returns the freedom originally attributed to cars back to the individual.”

Of course, for Klein’s unique vehicle to go mainstream, it’ll first have to convince regulators of its safety and durability, while owners of the AirCar will have to have both a pilot’s license and a driver’s license to obtain the full benefit.

With all that in mind, it may be some time before we see Klein’s flying car on our roads and in our skies, but we can surely all agree that it’s one cool-looking machine and a remarkable achievement.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Tech News

Flying Car Makes History With First Inter-city Flight

A vehicle capable of flying in the sky and driving on the road completed a momentous  journey this week.

Stefan Klein, founder and CEO of R&D company Klein Vision, drove his prototype AirCar to Nitra international airport in Slovakia before motoring down the runway and taking off. He then flew the 35-minute route to Bratislava and, after landing at the city’s airport, drove the two-passenger vehicle downtown three minutes away. A video (below) shows key moments from the incredible ride.

Klein has been developing a flying car for the last 20 years. His vehicle has already taken more than 140 test flights, but this week’s outing was the team’s most ambitious effort to date.

With the simple push of a button, the dual-mode vehicle retracts/deploys its wings and tail in a mere 135 seconds, enabling it to hit the road or take to the skies.

The gasoline-powered AirCar uses a BMW engine and a fixed-propeller. It has a maximum cruising speed of 119 mph (190 kph) and has flown as high as 2,500 meters (8,200 feet). The next version of the AirCar is expected to have a top cruising speed of 186 mph 300km/h (162kt) and be able to travel as far as 621 miles (1,000 km) on a single tank of fuel.

There has been growing interest in so-called “flying cars” in recent years — Digital Trends features some of the leading designs — though most vehicles can only fly and have no ability to transform into a roadworthy automobile. However, unlike the AirCar, many of the vehicles can take off and land vertically, making them ideal for travel in urban areas. They’re also electric, whereas the AirCar currently requires gasoline.

Still, Klein’s focus has been on something that’s truly worthy of the “flying car” label.

“This flight starts a new era of dual-transportation vehicles,” the inventor said in a release. “It opens a new category of transportation and returns the freedom originally attributed to cars back to the individual.”

Of course, for Klein’s unique vehicle to go mainstream, it’ll first have to convince regulators of its safety and durability, while owners of the AirCar will have to have both a pilot’s license and a driver’s license to obtain the full benefit.

With all that in mind, it may be some time before we see Klein’s flying car on our roads and in our skies, but we can surely all agree that it’s one cool-looking machine and a remarkable achievement.

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

World’s First Flying Race Car Makes Historic Maiden Flight

Imagine a car race where the vehicles aren’t hurtling along the ground but instead tearing across the sky.

That’s the lofty ambition of Australia-based Airspeeder, which is planning to launch a three-race series using eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) vehicles before the end of this year.

Airspeeder recently revealed the completion of the first successful test flight of the flying race car that it’s aiming to use in its contest.

The Alauda Aeronautics Mk3 took its maiden flight recently in the skies over southern Australia. Lifted into the sky by eight sets of rotors on four arms, the vehicle can reach 62 mph in 2.8 seconds and fly as high as 500 meters. On this occasion, it was piloted remotely, but it also has a seat and controls for an onboard pilot.

Racing series

Billed as “the world’s first racing series for electric flying cars,” the event, called EXA, will pit the flying skills of up to four teams at three different sky-based racetracks around the world.

In each race, teams will be given identical flying vehicles — in this case the Alauda — with competitive advantage “only gained through pilot skill and world-class strategy,” Airspeeder said.

The first race season will see the eVTOL vehicles flown remotely, but the plan is to put pilots into the flying cars for subsequent racing events. Races will involve navigating virtual courses with the machines flying blade-to-blade, Airspeeder said.

To avoid any devastating midair collisions, the eVTOL aircraft will be fitted with the latest lidar and radar technologies that create what Airspeeder describes as “virtual forcefields” around each of the flying cars.

As the current batteries can only sustain 15 minutes of flight, the vehicles will have to come in for pit stops to swap out power units. Airspeeder says it has developed an innovative “slide and lock” system to enable rapid battery removal and replacement, though just as with more traditional motor racing, the efficiency of the pit stop team will be key to getting the edge over competitors.

Airspeeder

The Airspeeder engineers that built the Alauda Aeronautics Mk3 have come from a range of industries, including motorsports, automotive, and aviation.

Adelaide-based Airspeeder, which launched in 2016, says its ultimate mission is to use the racing series to boost eVTOL technology through intense sporting competition.

“This mobility revolution, underpinned by future tech, will transform urban air mobility, global logistics, and even medical applications with a clean-air electric vehicle solution,” the company said.

Airspeeder is yet to announce specific dates and locations for its debut EXA season. We’ll be sure to update just as soon as we find out.

Airspeeder’s interest in eVTOL aircraft mirrors growing investment in the sector, with companies such as Airbus and Toyota eying the technology for short trips in urban areas using greener technology. Take a look at some of the impressive designs currently in development.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

Microsoft Flight Simulator World Update V overhauls the Nordics today

Microsoft Flight Simulator is getting another major World Update today, and this time, the Nordic countries are the area of focus. World Update V: Nordics is going live today, improving the flying experience in five different countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Like the other World Updates that came before this one, Asobo Studio has made significant improvements to those five countries, giving players more sights to see and landscapes to fly over.

In a post to Xbox Wire today, head of Microsoft Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann wrote that World Update V: Nordics makes “improvements in detail to broad swaths of landscapes, enhancements to regional architecture, improved data for 100 airports and 78 carefully selected points of interest.” In addition, we’re getting one new bush trip for each of the five countries included in this update.

There are also five new handcrafted airports, each with their own landing challenges to complete. The airports getting some special attention in this update are Bornholm Airport in Denmark, Ísafjörður Airport in Iceland, Stockholm Arlanda Airport in Sweden, Svalbard Airport in Norway, and finally, Vasaa Airport in Finland.

So, this World Update is very similar to other World Updates Asobo Studio has shipped in the past in that it places special emphasis on landscapes and points of interest, with a select few airports getting the handcrafted treatment. Like the World Updates that came before it, this one is free to all Microsoft Flight Simulator players, though you’ll need to update the game and then claim the new content from Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s marketplace.

At E3 2021, one of the big announcements to come out of the Xbox and Bethesda Showcase was the reveal of Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s release date on Xbox Series X|S. The game is landing on Microsoft’s current-gen consoles on July 27th, and presumably, it’ll feature all of the same content that has been released for the PC version so far. We also learned that Microsoft Flight Simulator is getting new content to tie in with the release of Top Gun: Maverick, but we’re left waiting for more details on that.

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Game

Turtle Beach reveals VelocityOne Flight in time for Microsoft Flight Simulator’s Xbox debut

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, flight sticks have been difficult to find for months now. While stock is slowly starting to recover, prices are still on the high side. Turtle Beach may have just revealed the antidote to those hard-to-find flight sticks and high prices, today introducing the VelocityOne Flight.

The VelocityOne Flight marks Turtle Beach’s entrance into the simulation hardware space, and the company says that it was “developed in collaboration with aeronautical engineers and pilots to deliver the most immersive, authentic, and modern PC and Xbox flying experience on the market.” You’ll notice that Turtle Beach specifically named Xbox there – we’re guessing it isn’t a coincidence that the VelocityOne Flight is being revealed just a day after Microsoft dated the Xbox version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

In any case, if you’ve been trying to get your hands on a flight stick or HOTAS but have been sidelined by low stock and high prices, this could be a good chance to get one finally. Turtle Beach says the VelocityOne is suitable for simulation fans of all experience levels and that it comes equipped with a “true-to-life” 180-degree yoke handle with built-in rudder controls. It also includes a modular quadrant throttle that comes with custom, replaceable lever handles.

The VelocityOne Flight connects over USB to Xbox Series X|S and PC, so it’s a good option regardless of where you plan to play Microsoft Flight Simulator (or other flight games like Star Wars Squadrons). Alongside this announcement, Turtle Beach also announced its new Recon Controller for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, which comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Pro-Aim Focus Mode that lets you tweak thumbstick sensitivity for first-person shooters. It’ll also have support for four different profiles.

The VelocityOne Flight and the Recon Controller are launching sometime this summer, but Turtle Beach hasn’t revealed a precise release date for either of them. The Recon will run $59.95 when it launches, while the VelocityOne Flight will cost $349.95. If you’ve been trying to get your hands on a HOTAS without any success, it should be noted that Turtle Beach is letting people sign up for pre-order notifications for the VelocityOne Flight on its website – something that could give you an edge when it comes to buying one of these flight sticks.

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Tech News

The future of personal flight could be the CopterPack

We’ve seen people fly using jet packs for many years, going back to the 80s. A new type of personal flying device has been shown off on video, and it’s called the CopterPack. It’s a backpack that a person wears with a pair of enclosed rotors similar to a quadcopter drone. CopterPack is the creation of an Australian company by the same name, and it has released a video showing a pilot flying around using its system.

It’s unclear if a system like this could be commercially viable in the future. The rotors are enclosed on the outside, but from the top or underneath, they are completely open and spinning at high speed. Any type of accident could put the pilot’s arms directly inside the whirling blades. There are no complicated flight controls; the rotors move back-and-forth on a central axle.

That movement allows the pilot to control their path in the sky. The company says the CopterPack has a self-leveling autopilot feature. CopterPack is lightweight with construction from carbon fiber honeycomb. Carbon fiber is a material commonly used in aircraft, spacecraft, and motorsports for its extreme strength and lightweight.

Most of the technology used in the CopterPack is a mystery. The company has offered no real details on the system. It appears to be electric, but that is among the unknown factoids. The flying range per charge is another of the big mysteries. It’s also unclear if this is a prototype system meant for displays and airshows or if the company believes the device is viable for private flight.

The system would appear to have some work that needs to be done to make it a viable system. It would seem that simply adding mesh above and below the rotors could go a long way to making the system safer.

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