Aircraft skin and bird-guiding drones: Take a peek into the future of flight
12:42 PM EDT, Tue May 26, 2015
A high-tech aircraft skin that harvests the plane's vibrations to power its in-flight systems. Drones that lead birds away from the runway, making the skies safer for fliers both human and avian.
These are just some of the ideas devised by university students from across the world competing in the Airbus Fly Your Ideas contest. The biannual global student challenge in partnership with UNESCO attracted over 500 entries from 104 countries, which have been narrowed down to five finalists. The winning team will be announced on May 27, taking home a cash prize of 30,000 euros ($32,900).
"Fly Your Ideas is all about inspiring the next generation of innovators to apply some fresh thinking and their own experience to sustainable future solutions for the aviation industry," says professor Ian Lane, senior expert of composite analysis at Airbus.
"True innovation is a result of diversity, which is why we're so pleased that students from all different backgrounds and from all over the world have come together to take part in this competition," he adds.
CNN takes a peek into the work of the five finalists.
Team Aft-Burner-Reverse from China's Northwestern Polytechnical University wants to reduce the risk of on-the-ground collisions, which happen when the plane is taxiing, by increasing the crew's awareness of any potential obstacles. Their concept applies motion-sensing technology from games consoles to send infra-red and visual information to pilots, warning them if the route they are taking isn't clear or if their wingtips are too close to any structures surrounding the runway.
In 2009, a flock of birds hit a US Airways Airbus A320, forcing the captain to ditch it into New York's Hudson river. While there were miraculously no deaths on this occasion, bird strikes can cause serious damage to aircraft and pose a real danger to the safety of passengers.
Team Birdport from the University of Tokyo wants to minimize the number of these collisions with drones which will lead wildlife to a designated safe area away from planes. "Our drones guide a bird flock by circling around the flock while it is slowly moving to an airport," says Birdport team leader Santoshi Miyarani. "According to our initial simulation, we may need up to 30 drones to guide 100 birds to the so-called 'birdport,' the safe haven away from the airport and aircraft," he adds.The safe zone would be located six miles away from the runways, and once the flock is on site, the team would deploy decoys and birdsong in order to keep them there.
Team Multifun from Holland's Delft University intends to dress plane wings in a composite skin that harvests energy from the aircraft's vibrations. Piezoelectric fibers would gather electrical charges from even the smallest movements during flight, storing the energy generated in battery panels located in the fuselage. This electricity would then be used to power in-flight systems such as lighting and entertainment.
"The idea focuses on design and development of multifunctional materials for next generation aerospace applications," says Sathiskumar Anusuya Ponnusami, the team leader. "Our project explores multifunctional capabilities such as energy harvesting and storage in advanced composite materials for aircraft applications. This will further reduce the carbon footprint as additional energy is harnessed from vibrations, which goes to waste otherwise," he adds.
The team thinks that this approach would also store enough energy for ground operations such as taxiing, which is currently driven by the plane's engines.
Team Bolleboos from London's City University wants to reduce carbon emissions of ground operations by half with a wireless system which allows an aircraft to be charged while on the runway. The concept centers on transmitters located in the tarmac, which would transfer electrical power to a receiver placed between the wheels of the plane's nose.
Environment was also on the agenda with team Retrolley from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. They have tackled the issue of in-flight waste with a trolley designed to intelligently sort rubbish by minimizing the volume of foils, paper and plastic while also collecting any residual fluids. The team says that the trolley could reduce the weight of galley equipment by up to 30 kilograms, therefore cutting down fuel consumption because the lighter the plane is the less fuel it burns.