Sunday, May 9, 2021

Web Sight

Update the website, long overdue:

Includes an edited version on my take on the eVTOL market as it stands, viz.

What electrification does for flight is to diversify the means of getting airborne, more than has ever been possible, in the way that nature fills every possible niche in the air.

Previously the most consistent attempt to apply multiple motors to flying machines in ways that are seen increasingly today was that of a Canadian working in California, in the shape of Paul Moller. He is largely overlooked by the current generation of entrepreneurs for the simple reason that his ideas were ahead of his time, and the electrical equipment available to experimenters today did not exist in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the way the Wright brothers pioneered flight only once the internal combustion engine had become viable, electrical VTOL only became possible when able to supplant that form of power in turn. Altogether simpler to distribute around airframes, the single (or twin) engines familiar to conventional aeroplanes and helicopters are being supplanted by any number of electrical motors driving fans or propellers ~ as few as eight though anywhere between eighteen and three dozen in the ‘flying taxis’ attracting current venture capital.

An analogy is computing, in which a single ‘calculating machine’ available to government and commercial offices would gradually be replaced by a computer on every site, then a PC on every desk and finally a smartphone in every pocket: a multiplication of means. In terms of the overall market for electrical aircraft there is likely to be a wider diversity of ‘phenotypes’ than those that evolved in the hydrocarbon economy, because of the ease with which lightweight and powerful motors can be distributed throughout both airframes and the global economy generally.

The costliest implementation of a means of VTOL for conventional types for instance was that to develop the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and not the least of the reasons which have led to the costliest overrun in aviation history is the previous complexity of vertical lift. In contrast, the great majority of ventures into electrical aviation take this ability as a given.

As a consequence, whilst the bulk of investment capital is aimed the soonest returns from multiple-occupancy eVTOLs and cargo drones, the ecosystem of electrical flight is rather broader altogether. This itself reflects the evolution of pre-existing technologies like the motor-car, which in the UK for example sprang from singular prototypes to a diversity of manufacturers numbering over two thousand… which would nonetheless be reduced to around a half-dozen as internal-combustion engines evolved toward their senescence.

This widening of development means that single-occupant or personal eVTOL has a place, although you might argue that single-seat rotorcraft almost literally never took off, while that the most numerous of helicopters is a two-seater in the shape of the Robinson R22. Nonetheless the R22 was premised on the basis that two seats would be considered the ideal from a practical and sociable point of view, not least because of the sizeable training market available to a type with seats for a student and instructor.

Previously the overriding issue against the success of single-seat types however was the fact they were practically as expensive to purchase, maintain and operate as larger types. This is wholly less likely to be the case with multicopters that already bestride a range of applications from aerial photographic types through industrial and agricultural drones and cargo-copters. The latter already raise payloads in excess of that required to transport an individual, and thus the ability to do so is a logical progression that fills a niche between uninhabited variants and multiple-occupancy types. It is well worth considering after all that in most economies charabancs and buses long preceded private-owned automobiles.

Our view therefore is that personal eVTOLs are a natural development of the environment already enjoyed by millions of drones in use worldwide. At the same time there has always been a vibrant kit-build market for aircraft from the beginnings of aviation ~ or what else could the Wright Flyer be considered? The key to continuing this tradition with electrical aircraft depends on manufacture and distribution as much as it does with aerodynamics.

From the outset ~ and of necessity ~ the TELEDRONE has therefore been designed for flat-pack assembly and modular means of operation which reduce the cost of ownership. It is also worth noting that birds were hopping or gliding long before they could fly… and it is no coincidence that eVTOLs have invariably been tested at low-level and over water.

Beside the market for individuals wanting access to their own personal ‘helicopter’ there is therefore an impetus for the replacement of traditional means such as boats, helicopters or hovercraft in a variety of roles, in ways that drones have largely supplanted rotorcraft. It is as ever a question as ever of walking before you can run, or of climbing ladders one rung at a time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Need to leverage the extensive media I've accumulated in development, and as it's not worth re-inventing the wheel here's the Instagram account that will in due course be linked from the website:

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Mayday (Mayday Mayday?)

Been forwarded this recently on Instagram and figure it's a fairly recent manifestation, although with eVTOL and videos it's often hard to tell. The first recorded attempt to stand and effectively 'surf' a powered platform or airboard of this kind is attributed to a Canadian guy (and a lake, inevitably) and going back several years now.

But they do keep popping up, not least in Florida with Dragon's Airboard (which has the addition of ski-poles to hold onto). Either way you're pivoting the airframe around a fulcrum to tilt the array of propellers in the required direction, whether that fulcrum is a moveable part of the airframe itself or simply your ankles, which are equally able to flex.

It's tempting to follow suit, because the advantage these powered platforms have over drones is that the motors need not be constantly accelerated and decelerated by the flight controller that otherwise steers the craft, such that the batteries last for that much longer. Beside this, they are commendably compact in view of their flatness.

Tempting as it is however, I shall defer from the pursuit of an underslung outline of the kind because they could be classed as a dangerous (albeit exhilarating) sport. We looked yesterday at the broad division of eVTOL types and at the personal end of the scale like this they fall into two categories viz. weight-shifted and computer-controlled.

Ultimately they could be considered separate niches altogether, the one being a form of recreation per se and the other a more prosaic means of traveling from A to B. The reasons I prefer the latter in the longer term are multifarious:

Firstly, it's been done and there's nothing much extra that I could bring to the table.

Secondly, what intellectual property we've filed relates to a combination of drones pitched at different levels around an accommodation booth that may yet extend to the height of a telephone box (and hence the moniker).

Thirdly, digital control of vehicles cannot be uninvented and it seems a shame not to tale advantage of it along with every other form of transport.

Fourthly, I want a vehicle anyone can use from the get-go,

Fifthly, I'd like to be able to provide kit-builds that lend themselves to flat-packs, and the drone appearing in my last post is ideally adapted to these means.

Sixth, although there's eight propellers on the TELEDRONE too they are packaged in a modular design that allows the airframe to be readily disassembled for transport.

To prove this last point that photo of the 'DRONE in the last post took place in a studio, and to get there the upper quad occupied the roof-rack, the lower quad the flatbed of the trailer and the accommodation booth itself the trunk of the car.

Accordingly ~ and these projects are a long haul that require the dedication and re-dedication of an almost monastic pursuit ~ from hereon in expect the aforesaid design to be the goal of endless improvement and an ongoing program of 'proof-of-concept'.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Show Me the Money

A studio shot of the work-in-progress and the question now being, whither eVTOL?

Setting aside conventional fixed-wing aircraft now being hybridised or else electrified, the money is on drones of increasing size destined for multifarious tasks, not the least of which is cargo ~ or else passenger types seen as three-dimensional substitute for ride-sharing means like taxis. Realistically the latter are still going to require a means of negotiating the 'final-mile' but the promise of autonomous and on-demand surface transport promises a relatively seamless means of moving from A to B.

Both of these commercial enterprises ~ whether hauling cargo or ferrying passengers ~ are prohibitively expensive and prolonged ventures, especially so as regards the latter. No surprise therefore that the bulk of investment has been directed toward enterprise set to spend billions of dollars over a period of many years, with tangible returns on investment a long way off. Or if Warren Buffet's opinion of the airline industry merits any attention, perhaps not at all. Some such enterprises may yet ~ given the pace of human evolution and existential threats to its environment ~ disappear like dinosaurs in the way that memes like MySpace did within the world of social media.

At the other end of the scale, and emerging largely from self-funded experiments in workshops around the world, is what Dragon in Florida call personal eVTOL. It is worth remembering that the automobile, aeroplane and helicopter emerged from tinkering of this kind, which despite science and engineering being increasingly collaborative may yet prove to be the origin of products at least as (if not more) successful in the longer term. It was Peter Thiel who pointed out that bits run free whilst atoms attract taxes, which is to say that hardware is always harder to proliferate than software, and when it comes to raising a payload there is no way around the physics.

Which is why I produce models for developments, genotypes if not phenotypes, that at least stand a chance in the longer term. There are no guarantees given the human factor, and it was the great automotive engineer Ricardo who pointed out that the prevalence of the internal combustion engine at the outset over steam or electrical power was effectively happenstance.

Looking at the picture above, I thing there is an argument for distributing propulsion vertically as well as horizontally and not least because it effectively employs a pair of the more critical elements of flight... and I say that as an ex-airline captain. Among such experiments into personal air vehicles (PAVs), the choice of where to put the propellers has devolved into types setting them under-foot, around the waist or else overhead. Few that I can see (and which is why there's a patent application attached) try to combine elements of each.

On the other hand and in the short-term, however, there might not be a need to. The birds themselves are thought to have evolved from said dinosaurs from the ground up (gliding interspersed with running) or else top down ('para' chuting from trees). There is therefore, and not least because of the fears of the regulatory environment in the more hidebound markets like the UK and Europe, an argument for the progressive development of flight-redundancy whilst the technology matures.

The overwhelming bulk of drones, for example, still offer zero redundancy and yet survive in the commercial eco-sphere by virtue of the fact that they are still more reliable than the average human being. Senior captains with whom I flew in the airline industry all had colleagues who'd died in training, and even flying recently in China I worked with co-pilots who'd lost equal numbers to weather, or simply walking into propellers.

It would seem to make sense, therefore, like the earliest birds to offer beta-products for use in ground-effect. In essence this is what is happening already, with the most visible single-seat eVTOLs operating close to the surface (and ideally over water, which is notionally more forgiving). The crowd-pleasing developers of jet-packs are also, as yet, altogether more comfortable flying over water for the same reason... while turbines like electrical motors are practically fail-safe in themselves, a unitary failure would spell disaster. (There are also multicopter developers out there on YouTube like 'HeroFlyer' who have literally disappeared, I fear, due to death or disability... if you're still out there hero, then do get in touch.)

The question at the end of the day for personal eVTOL developers is whether there is a market at all of any kind, and I speak as someone who recalls Hewlett Packard and IBM doubting there was a corollary in computing. After all, single-seat helicopters never took off, or at least figuratively. The reason things are different this time though is that eVTOL are EVENTUALLY a lot easier than helicopters, and don't attract nearly the same operating costs. As things stand, institutional investors (whom scientists generally dismiss as barely more sage than chimpanzees) are betting on larger eVTOLs for much the same reason, in that if you're spending billions it might as well be on the means to carry four or more people in view of the potential returns.

A sort of half-way house is the larger type of solo flyer that the likes of HEXA are now developing, although the FAA are bending over backwards in ways the UK CAA would conceivably never do (unfortunately for me) in order to accommodate. For example, they've acquiesced in a basic weight almost double that permitted by Part 103, nor do they appear to have objected to commercial joy-rides that have raised very substantial funding to boot. (This is especially ironic given the US shut down the VTOL pioneer Paul Moller for alleged 'illegal' share-trading). Nonetheless I personally feel that this is exactly the way to go, barnstorming having been a principal means of supporting aviation in the wake of the armistice following the First World War; plus the fact that with a half-million dollar price-tag they'll be needing every possible source of revenue.

But of you can't beat 'em, join 'em is what I say and as things stand I shall either put this half-scale prototype out there as-is in an effort to finance its programming and test-flying, or else put it on the back-burner and focus efforts on something simpler again that might pursue a sort of evolutionary use like those at which I've hinted. A weight-shift platform for example (which has proven the most enduring individual type) does at least make an ideal substitute for hovercraft or boats, with potential customers like search-and-rescue organisations.

In the past, whether as inventor or author, I have found the number of people who are happy to be associated with your work increases geometrically with its success. Among the very few with words of encouragement that I have known (beside Peter Hawkes at the British Technology Group) are Barbara Cassani and, bizarrely, Richard Branson. In fact I view it as no mistake that he is where he is today (on a Caribbean island) precisely because he takes the time at least to acknowledge peoples' efforts.

He also owns the adjacent island to Necker in the British Virgin Islands, and I'd guess he'd rather step onto a form of electrical 'sky-walker' to flit between the two than onto the jetty some way distant and into a boat. Reduce costs in the wake of exemplary users like this ~ as Benz's wife found with the motor-car ~ and you get to any number of circumstances where any number of us would like one in the garage.

It's a Jetson's thing, and you'll point out that the Jetsons needed a family flying car. And I'll point out that that sort of family barely exists any more at least statistically, and that the majority of people in the sort of urban centres like New York that the whole world now occupies are actually single.

It's a sad world, and so we might as well enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mars Attacks

NASA manage to fly a drone 170 million miles distant in an atmosphere one percent as dense as that on Earth, whilst I don't have one working in the back yard. What a loser. I am, unfit to have trod the hallowed ground of the facility at Ames. Then again it cost them three million dollars, making my budget altogether more ethereal than theirs...

Friday, April 16, 2021

Turner Prize

Width of the lower quadcopter's body has been depressing me, in turn a function of the fact that fibreglass mannequins are incapable of squeezing into smaller spaces, so that the accommodation needed to be much wider than it was long (15" by 10" even at half-scale)... as if I don't have enough to do with building an electrical aircraft.

This cost me half a day of staring at the ceiling wondering what to do about it ~ if not give up altogether ~ but God or providence supplied a solution in the form of an about face on the part of the mannequin. Turning it through ninety degrees meant the sides had to be raised by an inch or two, though you'll see it comes together in due course. Be fair to say there are periods when I never want to look a drone win the face again, but with a pandemic restricting practically all else it's that or self-immolation.

(It does also mean that the box is now much longer than it is wide, but this does at least allow for a reduction in the outline of the drone it sits upon, whilst providing the protection for the lower limb's that would inevitably have been raised as an issue at some stage along the way.)