We Have Liftoff! New Aerospace Technologies Shaking The World
How far are we away from the world of flying cars and jetpacks? Well, if Larry Page is to be believed, not very far at all. This year it was discovered that Larry Page, founder of Google, had been secretly funding a flying car company. According to reports, he’s spent more than $100 million of his own money trying to get the project off the ground. The very fact that he’s even interested in such a wacky project shows that things are changing. Could flying cars become a reality?
The latest flying cars concepts don’t show cars with fold out wings. Instead, modern flying cars look at lot like upscaled drones. They have a pod in which the passenger sits. And they are surrounded by four fan blades that provide lift, just like a consumer-grade drone. According to reports, flying cars will soon be able to lift off with passengers on board. They will then transport them over cities, avoiding traffic entirely.
Flying cars aren’t the only incredible developments in aerospace this year. Back in the Spring Elon Musk of SpaceX successfully landed one of his rockets back on a floating pad out in the Atlantic ocean. It was a major feat that showed that it was possible to land rocket stages even after they had been used.
Finally, we’ve seen new jet fighters and space planes introduced and entertained. This makes 2016 one of the most exciting years in aerospace ever.
The finished products, however only tell a fraction of the story about what goes into new aerospace technologies. These vehicles are terrifyingly complex and constitute millions of different parts. Everything has to be perfectly calibrated in order to work. And if one thing is slightly off, it can cause catastrophic failure. Most people never get to see things like cadmium plating or the navigation systems that make these innovations possible. But all these micro technologies are essential.
When things go wrong, it can be catastrophic. Just look at what happened on the launch pad of a SpaceX rocket back in October. The rocket was sitting on the launch pad, refueling its oxygen tanks when it suddenly exploded, destroying the rocket and part of the pad. It was a miracle that nobody got hurt.
Going forwards, engineers don’t see significant improvements coming from the hardware itself. Instead, they see it coming from the data supporting it. Software will take an increasingly important role. It will help engineers find ways to simplify their designs. We already see this begging to happen with 3D metal deposition. Instead of constructing various parts from many pieces of metal, engineers can print parts in one go. Fewer parts mean more efficient operation and a lower chance that there will be some kind of failure.
We also see an uptick in the amount of education for those wanting to go into aerospace. In the US there are currently more than 65 programs for students who want to get into the industry. Every year the country churns out more than 38,000 new engineering jobs. Will we finally get the flying car? Let’s hope so.