Rolls-Royce to launch all-electric plane in 2020

The racing plane is hoped to be the fastest electric plane in existence.

ACCEL
  • 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

ACCEL

Rolls-Royce

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.

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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