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Converging Toward the Jetsons

Mark DeRoche (Aerofex)
Machines
Location: Fire House

The convergence of hardware and software has influenced aircraft design in fundamental ways, enabling previously improbable configurations to take flight. Open-source controllers and six-axis chipsets provide artificial stabilization and functionality that differs from aircraft designed traditionally around stability. This has lead to new types of control systems and the potential for new capabilities. The convergence may finally deliver on the promise of personal aviation; aerial utility at the individual level. Whether receiving packages by drone or traveling across town in an air-taxi, advances in the capabilities of aircraft are a pre-requisite, but not the entirety of the solution.

The addition of a network providing cues about the local aerial environment will provide the third pillar that enables the realization of personal aviation. Safe flight around people, structures, and near the ground requires position precision; however, airflow at low-altitudes are dynamic and highly variable, particularly in urban areas. Imagine rounding the corner of a high-rise and encountering a typical inner-city wind gust without warning without the benefit of the ground for stability. Current maps of surface winds are too coarse and static to provide useful information at this scale.

The small size and slower speeds of the personal aircraft make them susceptible to wind gusts. Current aircraft stability systems are reactive, but can we make them predictive? We are working on a system for ducted fan craft that does just that. To augment that system, or enable crafts that do not utilize ducted fans, we need to look past the vehicle and toward a network that provides real-time information about the aerial environment at the local level. The network would sense, predict and provide actionable data to the pilot or vehicle about the dynamic environment in which they are navigating. Data would come from conventional meteorological sources, distributed sensors, and the vehicle itself. A virtual representation of airflow could be displayed on the pilot’s headset for anticipatory action, or sent directly to the vehicle to autonomously compensate for impending disturbances with or without the operator’s knowledge.

As these developments in hardware, software, and the power of a network converge on personal aviation, the utility of flight will benefit a much larger portion of society.

Photo of Mark DeRoche

Mark DeRoche

Aerofex

Mark De Roche is the developer and test-pilot of a flying motorcycle, and is the founder and CTO of Aerofex Corp – a technology development firm seeking to democratize flight.
A UCLA grad in aerospace engineering, he has participated in the design and development of numerous advanced spacecraft and experimental aircraft programs. He has been awarded patents and FAA approvals for aviation and propulsion technology. He has been published and has presented at technical conferences, gave a lightning talk at Sci-Foo, and spoke most recently at Nerve’13 at the University of Cambridge, UK.