I flew an eVTOL simulator around Los Angeles and saw why they may make traditional pilots obsolete- here’s what it was like

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

  • Electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft, or eVTOLs, will likely be flying around cities in less than five years.
  • Flying them may not be traditional pilots but trained operators using simplified cockpit systems.
  • Engineers are working to make the aircraft as simple as possible to avoid a pilot shortage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft, better known as eVTOLs or even flying cars, are scheduled to make their aerial debut flying passengers as early as 2024.

CityAirbus eVTOL
Airbus’ CityAirbus electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft.

Startups are nearing the finish line for the helicopter-like aircraft that aim to transform how commuters get around congested cities and how cargo is transported to remote communities.

Beta Technologies eVTOL UPS
A rendering of Beta Technologies’ eVTOL aircraft.

Read More: UPS reveals plan to buy hundreds of helicopter-like electric aircraft to buzz around cities delivering packages — take a look

But while the tech is set to revolutionize the skies, the question remains: who will fly them? Airlines know better than anyone that there’s a global pilot shortage and the urban air mobility market is set to face a similar fate.

Joby Aviation
Joby Aviation’s eVTOL design.

That’s why eVTOL developers are building their aircraft to fly without pilots altogether by using autonomous, self-flying technology.

Joby Aviation
Joby Aviation’s eVTOL design.

Read More: I flew on a self-flying plane where pilots sat back as the aircraft taxied, took off, and landed on its own and I’m convinced it’s the future of aviation

 

Until that goal is achieved, however, there will have to be human beings flying the aircraft. And to ward against a pilot shortage grounding the UAM industry, developers are simplifying systems so that “operators” can fly them instead of the certified pilots that are in short supply.

Archer Aviation electric aircraft VTOL
Archer Aviation’s eVTOL design.

Honeywell Aerospace, which is responsible for around 20-35 percent of the systems that will power eVTOLs, is working to design cockpits for what it calls “simplified vehicle operations.” They’re designed to make flying eVTOLs easier for operators that might not have traditional flying experience.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

The cockpits won’t be as complex as those found on airliners or even today’s helicopters. Rather, they’ll be “simple, intuitive, aesthetic, [and] cool,” says Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of urban air mobility and unmanned aerial systems at Honeywell, in an interview with Insider.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

I put my novice flying skills to the test to see if these so-called operators could replace certified pilots. Here’s what I found.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

The simulator was incredibly basic but featured some of the tech that operators will be using. Honeywell eventually wants to makes eVTOLs seem familiar to first-time users by using automobile-style speedometers and smartphone-style battery indicators, for example.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

In front of me was a primary flight display showing speed, pitch, altitude, and vertical speed, along with a map and heading indicator. For this flight, though, I’d primarily be flying visually and simulated a clear day in Los Angeles.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

On my right was a side stick that controlled the aircraft’s direction as well as its altitude. Pushing forward put the aircraft in a descent while pulling back caused the aircraft to ascend, while pitch stayed relatively constant.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

On my left was the throttle. Pushing it forward increased the speed while pulling it back decreased it.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

Fly-by-wire systems embedded in the aircraft’s systems also offer an extra level of protection. I could turn the side stick all the way to one side and the system would stop me from flipping the aircraft.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

If at any point I lost control, all I’d need to do is throw my hands up and the aircraft would level itself. These systems are commonly found in airliners but have been translated for use in eVTOLs to increase safety through automation.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

With all that in mind, it was time to take flight.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

I flew the aircraft over to our starting point in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

United Airlines announced a $1 billion order for eVTOLs from Archer Aviation with plans to offer air taxi service to Los Angeles International Airport from vertiports throughout the city. So that was what I decided to simulate.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

Read More: United just ordered $1 billion worth of eVTOLs from a startup that aims to launch intra-city passenger flights in 2024

Only 13 miles separate Dodger Stadium and Los Angeles International but the drive can be torturous, especially when navigating rush-hour traffic.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

We started a timer as I lifted off from the Dodger Stadium parking lot and off we went for the non-stop flight to LAX.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

The eVTOL handled beautifully as we overflew the stadium.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

I followed the Harbor Freeway through downtown Los Angeles, the only obstacle between the stadium and the airport. But it was nothing the eVTOL couldn’t handle.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

The top speed for this aircraft is around 144 knots but some eVTOLs can travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour or greater. And those on the ground below might not even know an eVTOL is flying above them.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

“These things, when they take off, the design target is as quiet as your dishwasher at home,” Frymat said. “And then when they’re flying overhead, you don’t hear them.”

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

It was a straight shot to the airport after clearing the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

As this was just a simulation, we didn’t have to worry about other aircraft in the area or talking to air traffic control, both of which might add to the flight time. The skies above Los Angeles see no shortage of airliners and general aviation aircraft.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

Los Angeles International soon came into view and I started slowing down to prepare for landing.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

The one thing the simulator didn’t have was a way to look beneath the aircraft, so I’d have to use my best judgment.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

I touched down in the airport’s ride-share parking lot. Total flight time: just under four minutes.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

Of course, there is a lot that simulations don’t take into account such as adverse weather, air traffic control, and other aircraft. But, I was impressed at easy it was to control the eVTOL.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

And while this was only a simulation, this level of simplicity will be required if eVTOL firms want to move away from traditional pilots and hire operators, instead.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

One thing that was clear is that eVTOLs truly have the ability to change the typical notion of place. The next flight was simulated was from downtown Los Angeles to San Diego, which took less than 30 minutes.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

If an eVTOL firm can offer that service for a reasonable price, then what’s to stop a person from working in Los Angeles and living in San Diego.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

And if the promises of a 2024 introduction for the aircraft hold true, the world is set to become a drastically smaller place in just three years.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell’s eVTOL simulator.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Aircraft will soon be voice-controlled in the next step towards self-flying planes – here’s how engineers are actively working to make it reality

Airbus A350 cockpit
An Airbus A350-1000 XWB cockpit.

  • Researchers and engineers at Honeywell Aerospace are working on aircraft systems that can be controlled by voice.
  • Pilots will be able to give commands and have a virtual assistant perform tasks to reduce pilot workload.
  • It’s the latest step towards fully autonomous self-flying aircraft that experts say will roam the skies by 2050.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Hey Siri, fly me to Los Angeles.”

Voice-controlled technology is continually advancing and just as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa have seamlessly become part of consumers’ daily lives, one company is seeking to do the same with voice-controlled aircraft.

Engineers and researchers at Honeywell Aerospace are currently working on new cockpit systems that will allow pilots to control their planes with voice commands.

It’s the latest effort that seeks to reduce pilot workload by increasing automation in the cockpit. The idea is that pilots can give simple commands like tuning to a radio frequency or turning to a heading, while also spending less time on tedious and time-consuming tasks like researching weather.

“Tell me the weather in Charlotte and tell me the critical weather en route,” is one command that could be given to ease a pilot’s workload, Vipul Gupta, vice president and general manager of Honeywell Aerospace Avionics, told Insider. “And [the] system actually figures it out and displays that information automatically to the pilot.”

Gupta likens it to saving time when asking Siri for the weather and having the virtual assistant do all the legwork instead of researching it on a computer. And Honeywell is working to give pilots the same tech in the cockpit as they have in their everyday lives.

Touchscreen technology that emulates smartphones is already common in business jet aircraft like the Gulfstream G500 and G700. Gulfstream’s Symmetry flight deck, powered by Honeywell’s Primus Epic cockpit, extensively relies on touchscreens to replace instrument panels and traditional flight computer displays.

Gulfstream Symmetry Cockpit
Gulfstream’s Symmetry Cockpit

Even spaceflight has adopted touchscreens, as the world saw when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft flew Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to space. And just as consumers grow accustomed to touchscreen smartphones, they’re now becoming accustomed to voice control, and it will soon be another tool available for pilots.

“Alexa has brought that third modality of control into our life,” Gupta said of voice control.

Teaching the cockpit to recognize speech

Before voice-controlled aircraft can fly, Honeywell has to teach the system to understand aviation jargon, of which there is no shortage. Telling an aircraft: “maintain 180 knots until ZULAB and fly the ILS 31L approach” is a bit harder than asking for the weather in New York City for next week.

“The eventual goal is to bring in that natural language processing context understanding, and then process it, and then provide the value to the cockpit,” Gupta said.

But unlike Siri or Alexa, the response from the aircraft needs to be instantaneous. Pilots can’t wait minutes while the system recognizes, understands, and executes the command, especially when flying in challenging conditions.

Engineers have refined the response time to 250 milliseconds to ensure the system can move faster than the pilot. Pilot state monitoring through the use of wearable devices will also help ensure pilots remain fully cognizant during the flight and aren’t becoming complacent in the flight deck.

Volunteers with a wide range of dialects, accents, and speech patterns come to Honeywell’s Deer Valley, Arizona facility and record hundreds of possible commands in a sound booth. In the background while they record are simulated aircraft noises to mirror the sounds of an actual cockpit.

The tech is also tested on a full-motion simulator where pilots can put it through its paces under simulated flight conditions, including turbulence. All the while, researchers are gathering data on how it impacts fatigue levels and whether it actually helps ease a pilot’s workload.

Insider demoed a basic version of the tech on a recent visit to Honeywell and it was surprisingly intuitive and quick to respond.

Honeywell Voice-Controlled Aircraft
Honeywell’s simulator in Deer Valley, Arizona.

Urban air mobility aircraft and general aviation aircraft will likely be the first to see voice-controlled technology. Single-pilot aircraft are ideal candidates as virtual assistants can help reduce workload.

Electric takeoff and land aircraft, or eVTOLs, will also be primed for more automation due to the sheer number of pilots that will be required to fly them. Honeywell believes it won’t be traditional pilots flying eVTOLs, but trained “operators” that will require simplified cockpit systems.

“What will happen is, as you see the growth of the UAM market overall across the world, we will run out of pilots,” Gupta said. “There aren’t that many pilots out there today who can actually fly all of the airliners, the business jets, and the UAM aircraft. It’s just not going to happen.”

Read More: Meet the 8 electric aviation startups poised to blow past the jet age and modernize air travel and logistics, according to industry experts

The goal for most eVTOL operators such as Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies is autonomous operations, where voice-controlled systems will play a similar role. But it won’t be a pilot giving the commands, it will be the passenger.

“Eventually, I think we’ll have a voice assistant where you will just sit in [the aircraft] and the passenger will say, ‘Hey, fly me there, take me there,'” Gupta said. “And then the system does it.”

Getting the public comfortable with more automation in aircraft is part of the gradual process of building up to fully self-flying aircraft.

“Voice control is step one – foundational break – then you start building on it,” Gupta said.

Read the original article on Business Insider