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Rolls-Royce to launch all-electric plane in 2020
The racing plane is hoped to be the fastest electric plane in existence.
- The electric aircraft industry is just starting to get off the ground, with Siemens breaking the world record for the fastest electric aircraft in 2017.
- With ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight), Rolls-Royce intends to beat that record in the spring of 2020.
- While these are existing developments, the field of electric aviation has significant challenges to face before we can expect to see electric long-distance passenger planes.
Rolls-Royce has announced that its zero-emission, one-seater racing plane will take flight in the spring of 2020 with the aim of beating the world record for the fastest electric aircraft. Siemens had set the previous record in 2017 with a speed of 210 miles per hour, but Rolls-Royce's plane — dubbed ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight) — is aiming for 300+.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that today's aviation industry contributes about 3.5 percent toward climate change. If no action is taken to mitigate or reduce the aviation industry's emissions the IPCC predicts that this number could rise to anywhere between 5 and 15 percent by 2050.
These facts and the nascent "flight-shaming" movement inspired by Greta Thunberg have pushed aviation companies to develop electric planes, a task that involves far greater technical challenges than developing electric automobiles. However, experts claim that zero-emission planes for passengers are decades away from being realized.
In a statement, Rolls-Royce officials described the importance of ACCEL in pursuit of this goal. "This is not only an important step towards the world-record attempt," said Rob Watson, the director of Rolls-Royce Electric, "but will also help to develop Rolls-Royce's capabilities and ensure that we are at the forefront of developing technology that can play a fundamental role in enabling the transition to a low carbon global economy."
In collaboration with the electric motor manufacturer YASA and the aviation startup Electroflight, Rolls-Royce's ACCEL features the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for aircraft. Its 6,000 cells provide "energy to fuel 250 homes or fly 200 miles (London to Paris) on a single charge."
Rolls-Royce also points out that ACCEL's powertrain will have an energy efficiency of 90%. In contrast, conventional gasoline engines only use 15 percent of their fuel's energy content, and even Formula 1 race cars only top out at 50% energy efficiency. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient, but ACCEL's powertrain appears to be beat the 80% efficiency that is typical for electric vehicles.
The age of electric flight
Other recent projects show that the electric age of aviation is just beginning to flex its wings. In December 2019, the Canadian commuter airline Harbour Air demonstrated the first electric commercial passenger aircraft. The ePlane, as the project was dubbed, is a seaplane designed for island hopping around the Canadian coastline. Because of the relatively small passenger load and distances involved, this first electric aircraft is well-suited to this purpose, as it can only hold 6 passengers and fly for 30 minutes (with another 30 minutes of reserve power) before requiring recharging.
More projects related to electric aviation were unveiled earlier in the year during the Paris Airshow, including Alice, a project by the Israeli firm Eviation. Alice will be a nine-passenger commercial electric aircraft capable of flying 650 miles at 276 miles per hour and is scheduled to enter service by 2022.
Our biggest stumbling block? Batteries.
While reducing emissions is a nice bonus for these companies, much of this development is driven by simple economics; electricity is far, far cheaper than conventional fuel, and even after investing in all this R&D, air travel will be significantly more cost-effective.
That R&D has delivered results. Much of the technologies involved in electric aircraft and electric vehicles in general has advanced extremely rapidly, with one crucial exception: batteries.
Without a means of storing large amounts of energy more densely and more efficiently, electric aircraft's range will be significantly limited. Currently, 80 percent of aviation CO2 emissions result from flights that travel over 1,500 km (a little less than 1,000 miles), distances that no electric aircraft is capable of covering.
Batteries can be optimized for six different characteristics: their energy density, cost, lifespan, temperature endurance, safety, and power (or the rate at which energy can be released). A smartphone's lithium-ion battery, for instance, should be cheap and endure swings in temperature, but it doesn't need to last too long or release too much energy at once. An airplane's battery system needs to excel on all six of these metrics.
Batteries are tricky, but advances are being made in this industry. With further advancements in electric aviation technology and battery technology, we might get to continue to visit the beautiful places that Earth has to offer without risking their disappearance in the process.
- Carbon neutral flying: How we can get there faster - Big Think ›
- NASA to test its first all-electric plane, the X-57 - Big Think ›
- Celera 500L aims to make private flights affordable - Big Think ›
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.