Autonomous, electric Lilium Jet takes off in skies above Bavaria

lilium electric vtol passenger jet

Aviation start-up Lilium has completed maiden test flights of its electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) passenger jet near Munich, Germany. 

It’s not often that one start-up brings together so many emerging technologies to create an original solution. Lilium has done exactly that, combining autonomous flight with electric power and VTOL transport. The goal is an emission-free, on-demand aerial transport service.

Since its inception the Lilium concept has raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding. This month that concept became a reality, with successful test flights of a smaller-scale prototype at an airfield near Munich.

In a post detailing the successful maiden flight, the company writes that, “Seeing the Lilium Jet take to the sky and performing sophisticated manoeuvres with apparent ease is testament to the skill and perseverance of our amazing team.”

“We have solved some of the toughest engineering challenges in aviation to get to this point. The successful test flight program shows that our ground-breaking technical design works exactly as we envisioned. We can now turn our focus to designing a 5-seater production aircraft.”

Read more: Under the hood of Land Rover’s Project Hero

A maiden flight years in the making

Lilium was founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen and Matthias Meiner, a team of aviation engineers who met at the Technical University of Munich.

Their shared vision for a revolutionary type of transportation led to the Lilium Jet, a VTOL aircraft capable of carrying passengers further and faster than traditional modes of public transport.

It has an estimated range of 300 km, a top speed of 300 kmp/h, and a zero-emission selling point that could make it an interesting prospect for public transport initiatives in the next few years. These impressive features are the result of a clever design that allows the fixed wings to tilt, switching propulsion between the vertical and horizontal planes.

Lilium jet

Lilium

It’s likely that the Lilium Jet will be manned and able to carry up to five passengers at a time. Although Lilium declined to comment specifically on how its aircraft could fit into conventional air traffic control systems or avoid other aircraft during flight, it has suggested that it will have an ‘ultra-redundancy’ system and that take-off and landing will be automated.

With 36 separate engines and a relatively small number of moving parts, failing components can be compensated for to give the jet time to land safely if anything does go wrong.

Read more: Airbus and Italdesign unveil modular smart city transport

The future of transport, on demand?

Lilium jet on demand

A Lilium Jet, on demand.

The team at Lilium has suggested that its electric VTOL jet could revolutionize urban commutes and help to address the poor work/life balance so many people experience.

On the face of it, any futuristic transport with such obvious benefits seems destined to be exclusive to the super-wealthy, but Lilium insists that isn’t the case. The company envisions an on-demand transport service that’s affordable for everyday users – something closer to an everyday taxi service, rather than a luxury helicopter shuttle.

There are several reasons for this affordability. First, it’s hoped that the environmentally friendly nature of the Lilium Jet will encourage substantial investment from public-sector organisations, rather than private-sector companies. Second, because the aircraft will be small and fairly lightweight, it doesn’t require a huge amount of infrastructure – just a system of landing pads that could be placed on rooftops or in open areas. Third, the Lilium Jet’s small number of moving parts means it will require less regular inspections and maintenance than conventional aircraft.

Lilium predicts that its first manned flight will take place in 2019, and hopes that by 2025, its on-demand air transport service will be a reality.

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Tarzan robot swings above crops for automated agriculture

Tarzan robot swings above crops for automated agriculture

Researchers at Georgia Tech are developing Tarzan, a sloth-inspired autonomous robot that can gather crop data from above. 

Innovation is often born out of necessity. At a four-acre test field near Athens, Georgia, plant genetics researchers from Georgia Tech spend every summer in scorching heat measuring crop growth and testing phenotype variations. They are trying to develop the drought-tolerant crops of the future. It’s hard, monotonous work.

This summer, colleagues from the university’s School of Mechanical Engineering will be joining them in the field, along with a team of sloth-inspired autonomous robots developed to ease the workload of millions of farmers worldwide.

Read more: Winemaker uses drones and IoT to boost crop production

Inspired by nature

Tarzan robots take inspiration from the natural world. They’ve been designed to imitate sloths and gibbons by swinging across and along parallel guy-wires. The robots will make their way along the cables while fitted with cameras, capturing each plant from above as they go. It’s hoped that in time they will autonomously carry out repetitive crop monitoring tasks with more speed and efficiency than researchers on the ground.

A statement from Georgia Tech outlines the team’s vision, which is that, in time, researchers will be able to gather more frequent measurements and avoid laborious field work. It’s easy to see how a system such as this could be rolled out around the world, with farmers assessing data in real time while Tarzan does the work.

Read more: IoT in agriculture — sowing seeds of innovation

tarzan robot

The Tarzan Robot: Georgia Tech

Game-changer – or just quirky robotics?

Although it’s clear that Georgia Tech’s swinging agriculture solution could do a job in the field, it’s difficult to say whether it will be an improvement on current autonomous technologies.

On the one hand, this is an all-in-one exhibition of progress in robotics technology. The design imitates a sloth’s leisurely hand-under-hand technique and uses 3D-printed claws to hold onto the wire. The efficient swinging motion helps it use less energy than conventional robots and instead rely largely upon its own momentum.

Read more: Agtech start-up Arable to measure crops and weather with IoT

In time, the research team suggest that solar panels could be added to keep the Tarzan robot out in the field for days at a time.

But many farms already have autonomous systems in place to monitor and sustain crop health. Aerial drones are widely used to gather data on plant health from above, with relaxing regulations and advances in both hardware and software only going to improve over time. Manufacturers such as DJI are also developing autonomous systems that can cover huge areas at a time while spraying crops with nutrients and pesticides.

It’s also unclear how the Tarzan system would provide better crop coverage than a camera dolly, using simple wheels instead of sloth-inspired locomotion.

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Finnish drone start-up Aeromon maps industrial emissions from above

aeromon industrial emissions drone

Finnish cleantech start-up Aeromon is using drones to track industrial emissions in real time. 

Drones are opening up commercial opportunities in a range of industries, from agriculture and mining to real estate. But until now there has been little focus on conservation and environmental applications. Finnish cleantech start-up Aeromon is changing that, with a drone and software platform capable of monitoring industrial emissions from above.

The team at Aeromon has developed a sensor package, ‘BH-8’, which is designed to recognize and track a large number of gases. Equipped with this sensor package, airborne measurements can be taken via drone along with accurate GPS, AIS (automatic identification system) and environmental data.

Aeromon’s custom drones weigh under 800g and send back data to an analytics platform. The platform in turn uses the information from the airborne sensors to map emissions in real-time.

Read more: GE uses IoT to revolutionise power plants

Successful pilot program uncovers ‘fugitive’ emissions

Aeromon recently completed a pilot program at the Ämmässuo waste treatment center, just north of Helsinki. The center is operated by the Regional Environmental Services Authority, HSY.

Aeromon compared the aerial measurements gathered by its aerial platform to historical data captured using handheld measurement tools at the same site. In what was essentially a proof of concept, Aeromon was able to capture readings closely corresponding with HSY reference results.

At a time when emission targets are being set around the world in an effort to halt the pace of climate change, agile and accessible technology such as this could help industrial regulators keep plants in check.

Aeromon chairman Jouko Salo believes that his company has found a gap in the market: “With emissions monitoring legislation tightening across the globe, the need for reliable fugitive emissions detection solutions is increasing,” he said.

But technology such as this is about more than ease of use. Over the course of the pilot project, Aeromon’s drone was also able to capture several measurements that were previously difficult or impossible to obtain.

Read more: Atlanta City launches smart cities initiative for cleaner living

Aerial emission detection meets cloud analytics

The BH-8 sensor package is fully-integrated with Aeromon’s own software and cloud service, offering clients automated web reports, data visualizations and progress tracking. Data is automatically updated after each new flight.

Read more: Solar industry looks to drones for competitive edge

“When aerially deployed, our sensor package can create a detailed emissions map of an industrial area. This data can be combined with environmental data in our cloud-based analytics platform to provide a complete view of the emissions,” said Jouko Salo.

A study commissioned back in 2015 by the UK’s Environmental Agency proposed that aerial systems could be used for environmental monitoring, but at the time there were question marks over the precision of instruments onboard unmanned aerial devices. In the short space of time since, there has been significant progress in both monitoring techniques and drone technology.

A Eunomia report concluded that better waste management could play a major role in reducing emissions across Europe, arguing that 200 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be cut every year by 2030 if best waste practices were widely adopted.

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Above the Crowd: Competitive Differentiators

Competitive Differentiators

In order to make the most of a connected product, you need to be able to differentiate that product from the crowd. To do that, there needs to be calculated measures taken when developing your IoT strategy. This week in the IoT framework series, we’ll be investigating how to come out on top of the …
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