Inside Unmanned Systems

APR-MAY 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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42 April/May 2018 unmanned systems inside SPECIAL REPORT NASA TECHNOLOGY rience for passengers, so we need to focus on seating arrangements and windows. For cargo, you need to make the vehicle easy to load and unload and to optimize the payload, but fundamentally the two are not different." Bell has used helicopters for logis- tics for years, Drennan said, and is also looking into this area with its autono- mous aircraft. In fact, the passenger air taxi the company is developing can be used to transport cargo; it's just a mat- ter of taking out the passenger seat. They're also working on a second ve- hicle type that's dedicated to logistics. Depending on the model, A PT, which stands for autonomous pod transport, will be able to carry 15 to 1,000 pounds of cargo for same day delivery. APT has already completed successful test f lights, Drennan said. One of the challenges that comes with cargo delivery is interfacing with various logistics customers, Drennan said. Different warehouses and retail centers will likely have different sys- tems for picking up and dropping off packages, so the vehicles will need to be able to work within those systems. The entire process will be automat- ed, Drennan said, including the inven- tory system. "An automated inventory system will load the vehicle as it's sitting on the vertiport. The vehicle will take off with the package and land at the distribu- tion center, where a similar autono- mous inventory system will unload the aircraft and then put another package on, or unload the power system and put a new power system on the vehicle," Drennan said. "It could be a manual process, but we can enhance efficien- cies if the f light portion and the pack- age exchange are both automated." It's more difficult for these types of aircraft to deliver packages to specific houses, but Drennan sees kiosks as a solution to that. The aircraft could drop off items at the neighborhood ki- osks for later pick up, rather than right outside someone's doorstep. THE CHALLENGES While air taxis offer a host of benefits— from shortening travel times to reduc- ing emissions to enabling faster, more efficient cargo deliveries—there are still hurdles to get past before UAM can become a reality. Developing a UTM system that enables these vehicles to communicate with each other as well as other aircraft is probably the biggest challenge, but there are others the com- munity is addressing. For example, these systems need to be able to reliably oper- ate no matter the weather conditions and be able to execute contingency plans in case there's an unexpected incident, Kopardekar said. "What happens if a bird strikes the aircraft? How does it safely navigate or make a decision to land if there's no pilot on board? The aircraft needs to be connected to a system," Kopardekar said. "Making sure these operations are going to be safe and able to handle contingencies is key." Certification also will be a challenge, Drennan said. These are new propul- sion systems and new vehicles that have never been certified before. To en- sure their safe operation, they'll need to comply with federal regulations that are yet to be crafted—which represents another hurdle. The aircraft will have to meet very high security and safety standards, Treeck said. The FA A and other au- thorities are working on this now, but it will take a while before such standards are in place. Then, of course, there's the bat- teries. Today's batteries only last for so long without needing to be re- charged or swapped out, Treeck said. The Volocopter, for example, usually needs to be charged after every f light. Eventually, she'd like to see the aircraft only needing a boost or replacement after maybe five f lights. Every vertiport will have charging sta- tions, Drennan said, and the amount of time it takes to get the aircraft back in the skies will depend on the type of vehi- cle, its payload and the distance it needs to travel. The goal, of course, is to re- charge the vehicles as quickly as possible to keep the flight cadence high. What's known as rapid charge is an option, but that method can be hard on batteries. On the logistics side, the Bell sys- tem is modular enough it doesn't have to wait to be recharged; it's simply a matter of swapping out the batteries, Drennan said. There's no need for fast charging or to wait for a cycle to com- plete before f lying. AN AUTOMATED INVENTORY SYSTEM WILL LOAD THE VEHICLE AS IT'S SITTING ON THE VERTIPORT. THE VEHICLE WILL TAKE OFF WITH THE PACKAGE AND LAND AT THE DISTRIBUTION CENTER, WHERE A SIMILAR AUTONOMOUS INVENTORY SYSTEM WILL UNLOAD THE AIRCRAFT AND THEN PUT ANOTHER PACKAGE ON, OR UNLOAD THE POWER SYSTEM AND PUT A NEW POWER SYSTEM ON THE VEHICLE," Scott Drennan, director of innovation for Bell Helicopter "

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