Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment Electric Vehicles

Going Where Long Haul Trucking Can’t

With as many as 8 of 10 communities inaccessible by road, aviation is a critical part of Alaska’s infrastructure that ensures the delivery of fresh food, mail, and cargo to the entire population, according to a 2017 report (PDF) from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Seizing on this opportunity, Ed De Reyes, CEO of Sabrewing Aircraft Company (SACO) explains their focus to bring remotely piloted cargo planes to this market in the 2023 timeframe. With $50M+ in bookings and plans to build their planes in the Last Frontier, SACO has a solid runway to volume production.

Sabrewing’s approach eliminates some upfront costs and ongoing operational costs associated with air cargo transport, making it much cheaper than a helicopter, cheaper than a traditional piloted cargo plane and even to the point where it will approach the costs for long-haul trucking in some cases.

By moving the pilot from the aircraft to an office, operational efficiencies are improved. For example, a pilot that flies to a remote community wouldn’t be stuck waiting for a plane to be unloaded, refueled and reloaded. They could simply fly another route, while the ground crew handled the cargo. If they are in the middle of a flight and their shift is up, they could simply hand off controls to someone else and the flight would continue.

Sabrewing’s vehicle, the Rhaegal RG-1, takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, and, the tilt rotors will allow it to fly like an airplane at 180 nautical miles/hour and up to 1,000 nautical miles. The VTOL capabilities are especially important to access areas that only have landing pads and not strips. Carrying between 800 (short take-off) to 1,000 lbs (vertical take-off), the cargo bay can be configured to carry standard pallets or bulk cargo.

Speaking at the event, De Reyes suggested that, for the next five to seven years, they foresee using a hybrid approach of Jet-A fuel-powered turbines together with batteries to drive the RG-1’s electric fans. Like a hybrid car, this approach will drive efficiency with up to 66 percent lower fuel consumption compared to a turbine-only approach, according to De Reyes.

Added 8/2/20 – With the advent of LEOS from the likes of Starlink and others, the round trip transmission between aircraft would be well under 1/10 of a second.  For details on the SpaceX (Elon Musk’s venture) Starlink please see A Multidimensional Broadband Network of Is This Just Pie-in-the-Sky?

What a Tesla Communications Network might look like if it adds air taxis as part of the mix..

De Reyes indicates that the communications path between the pilot and plane is via satellite and, even with an estimated roundtrip latency of fewer than two seconds, he describes the pilot being able to react to the 360-degree, computer-generated image as if she were seated in the plane. This image comes from a suite of six sensors, such as Lidar (Lidar was a centerpiece of the World Safety Summit on Autonomous Technology, where the above video was filmed).

These sensors form the basis for a Detect And Avoid (DAA) system that provides the human with a machine assist, which will be particularly when these planes start flying in more heavily used air spaces. In the meantime, De Reyes suggests that the remote pilot can “see” almost 20-miles thanks to the sensors, even in the stormiest weather.

Highlights of the above video interview include

00:49 – Remote operator, instead of an onboard pilot

01:43 – LIDAR and other sensors give the remote pilots up to 20-miles of crystal clear vision

02:38 – The planes can take off vertically or conventionally and use 66% less fuel

03:29 – They can land and take-off virtually anywhere

04:53 – How does this compete on a cost/mile basis with long-haul trucking?

06:07 – How does it compare to a helicopter?

06:54 – Aircraft trips are not limited by an onboard pilot

08:31 – What is the communications path between the pilot and the plane?

09:31 – A computer-generated image is a key to good vision

10:21 – Launch of test flights and FAA certification 11:06 – What is Sabrewing’s business model?

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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