The era of remote-controlled combat jets has come a little closer in the wake of a demonstration staged by Boeing and the Navy to fly two autonomously controlled EA-18G Growlers as uncrewed air systems.
Seattle startup Vtrus has raised investment for a different kind of drone — one that’s designed to conduct precision inspections of industrial facilities.
Salas-Moreno was previously the co-founder of Surreal Vision, a computer vision startup that was sold in 2015 to Oculus, Facebook’s VR subsidiary. He went on to work at Oculus VR for more than a year as a research scientist in Redmond, Wash., then helped lay the groundwork for Vtrus, which he launched in 2017 with chief technology officer Jonathan Lenoff and chief design officer Carlos Sanchez.
The company, based near Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, has developed an indoor autonomous drone known as the ABI Zero that can navigate its way around the tricky surroundings of a warehouse environment without the need for a remote operator or GPS waypoints.
Boeing says it has successfully completed the first test flight of a prototype for its autonomous passenger air vehicle, which could start carrying riders as early as next year.
The test was executed on Jan. 22 at an airport in Manassas, Va., near the headquarters of Aurora Flight Sciences, the Boeing subsidiary that’s been developing the electric-powered, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft, also known as an eVTOL craft. Boeing NeXt, the business unit that leads Boeing’s urban air mobility efforts, is in charge of the test program.
The uncrewed flight lasted less than a minute and involved a controlled takeoff, hover and landing. The maneuvers were designed to test the prototype’s autonomous functions and ground control systems. A test dummy was strapped inside the cockpit for the ride.
Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical flight and forward flight. That transition is considered the most challenging mode for high-speed eVTOL aircraft.
The market for autonomous flying cars — also known as eVTOL aircraft, air taxis or personal air vehicles — could amount to nearly $1.5 trillion by the year 2040, according to an in-depth analysis from Morgan Stanley Research.
The financial company’s 85-page report, distributed to clients this week, draws together data from a host of sources, including a private-public symposium on urban air mobility that was conducted last month in Seattle.
“We see the development of the UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem as extremely long-dated and requiring up-front capital allocation, testing and development in the short term, with increasing visibility;” said Morgan Stanley’s research team, which includes senior analyst Adam Jonas.
Aurora Flight Sciences, a pioneer in experimental flying vehicles that became a Boeing subsidiary last year, says its solar-powered, high-altitude, long-endurance Odysseus drone will take on its first flight in the spring of 2019.
Odysseus has been years in the making, part of an effort that dates back to the Daedalus Project in the 1980s, before Aurora was founded. MIT’s human-powered Daedalus plane set records in 1988 with a 72-mile flight over the Aegean Sea from Crete to Santorini. One of the leaders of that project was John Langford, who went on to become Aurora’s president and CEO.
“Aurora was founded by the idea that technology and innovation can provide powerful solutions to tough problems that affect all of humankind,” Langford said today in a news release. “Odysseus was an idea born out of Daedalus that is now a real solution to advancing the important research around climate change and other atmospheric chemistry problems.”
Aviation Week reported that Odysseus’ first flight has been scheduled to take place in Puerto Rico on April 23, 2019, the anniversary of Daedalus’ Aegean flight. The first battery-powered test craft is currently undergoing ground testing, and two more solar-powered aircraft are in the works, according to Aviation Week.
Boeing says it’ll be moving into a 100,000-square-foot research and lab space in Cambridge, Mass., that will focus on the design and development of autonomous aircraft.
Boeing’s Aerospace and Autonomy Center will house employees from Boeing and its recently acquired subsidiary, Aurora Flight Sciences, in a new 17-floor building in Cambridge. The agreement, announced today, makes Boeing the first major tenant of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kendall Square Initiative, which includes six sites slated for housing, retail, research and development, office space and academic facilities.
“Boeing is leading the development of new autonomous vehicles and future transportation systems that will bring flight closer to home,” Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer, said in a news release. “By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem.”
MIT said Boeing is expected to occupy the new space by the end of 2020. Employees from Aurora Flight Sciences’ existing R&D center in Kendall Square will move into the new center and operate it on Boeing’s behalf.
Uber executives are providing an update on their plans to put flying cars in the air by 2020, with commercial rides beginning in 2023, but the most pointed comments from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi address the rideshare company’s present challenges.
Khosrowshahi’s interview with CBS News came in conjunction with today’s kickoff of the second annual Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles, which focuses on Uber’s plans to operate fleets of electric-powered, vertical-takeoff-and-landing air taxis.
“We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” Khosrowshahi told CBS.
This week marked a milestone for Airbus Ventures’ Vahana team, which is developing a self-flying, electric-powered air taxi — also known as a flying car.
Vahana’s 20-foot-wide Alpha One prototype executed its first test flight at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range in eastern Oregon, rising to a height of 16 feet (5 meters) during 53 seconds in the air on Jan. 31.
Another test flight came a day later, Vahana project leader Zach Lovering reported in a Medium posting.
Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and Airbus’ A3 advanced-projects division were in attendance, along with the full Vahana team, Lovering said.
“In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” he said in a news release.
Boeing and Near Earth also announced a partnership to explore future products and applications for emerging markets such as urban mobility.
The move follows up on Boeing’s acquisition of a more established company in the realm of autonomous flight, Aurora Flight Sciences, and underscores the fact that the aerospace giant is turning more attention to robotic flying machines.
Neither Boeing nor Near Earth Autonomy said precisely how much was being invested.
“What I can tell you is that Boeing HorizonX typically makes investments that span the single millions up to the low double-digit millions,” Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer told GeekWire in an email. “The investment in Near Earth Autonomy is at the higher end of that range.”
Boeing says it has struck a deal to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences, a leader in the field of autonomous flight, to beef up its own capabilities on that frontier.
Aurora has been working with Uber on a new type of electric-powered autonomous aircraft that takes off and lands vertically. The Virginia-based company has reportedly worked with Google as well on that company’s hush-hush Project Skybender, which is aimed at developing high-altitude drones for long-duration flights.
Boeing, meanwhile, has been raising its profile in autonomous flight. It already owns Insitu, a company headquartered in Bingen, Wash., that specializes in unmanned aerial systems for military and civil applications. And this year, Boeing executives said they were moving forward with tests that could ultimately lead to self-flying planes.