Up Close and Personal – Meeting the NAVYA Driverless Shuttle

On 17/04/2015, in The future is now, by steve

navyaHaving written about the NAVYA driverless shuttle I was of course very keen to meet the beast in person and to try her out in a real, down to Earth environment. Last Wednesday it was so far…

In fact the NAVYA we got to see was a first generation prototype but if this version is anything to go by, V2, due out in the fall of 2015, will be a smash hit worthy of consideration by even the most demanding user.

Before we launch into Wednesday’s adventure, let’s just recap what we are talking about here. NAVYA Technology, a French start-up located in Lyon, has put together an all-electric vehicle which is capable of navigating along a predetermined track with stops also pre-programmed, doing this all without a driver on board. What is more, the shuttle operates on existing roads or inside existing corridors of buildings without any kind of new infrastructure being needed. No driver, no expensive new infrastructure and you can see why it is easy to make the business case for a fleet of NAVYAs…

It is interesting to draw the parallels between automation as we know it on aircraft and the automation needed to make NAVYA work. While aircraft demand a very high degree of reliability, they do work in what I would call a friendly environment. Take the case of an automatic approach to land. Other aircraft are kept away by air traffic control, the descent angle is such that the aircraft is kept at a safe vertical distance from ground obstacles and the aim is to make the wheels touch down in a predetermined zone of a runway that is typically 60 meters wide and in excess of 3000 meters long. The automation “knows” how to fly and where it needs to go and that is about it.
Now take the NAVYA shuttle. The desired reliability is still very high but of course she can always stop if something goes wrong. But until then she is operating in a definitely hostile environment. There are other vehicles that move around in the same space our shuttle also calls her own, there may be obstacles on the roadway that need to be bypassed, pedestrians will turn up unexpectedly and when she has to stop, she must stop with centimeter precision…

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BluSky Services 12 years young

On 01/04/2015, in Anniversaries, by steve

If I recall correctly, 1 April 12 years ago was a nice spring day, quite unlike what we are facing this year. For us, the founders of BluSky Services (the owner of the Roger-Wilco blog) in any case the sun was out and we were full of enthusiasm and hope. The future looked bright indeed. Our optimism was perhaps a bit out of place, after all we were launching a new aviation consultancy in the middle of the deepest crisis aviation has ever faced… the negative effects of 9/11 were still very much with us and the airlines (our future clients…) were fighting for survival. But we had this feeling, this conviction that for us, for BluSky Services, the time was right. And indeed it was.
Looking back on the past 12 years we see ups and downs but the overall trend-line is definitely up. Alongside aviation, we have branched out into the beauty industry and strengthened our multimedia capabilities; we have successfully developed our activities in the training field with highly successful courses delivered in places as diverse as Dubai and Naples.
Of course these successes would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of our friends and associates, to whom a thanks for all they have done for us… from day one, and even before!
What about the future? BluSky Services will continue its drive to be a center of excellence and a leader in new technologies in aviation and beyond. Drone sourced image processing, intelligent driverless vehicles, even more powerful eLearning tools, new clients… all in the picture for the coming months and years.
It may be windy and cloudy outside on this anniversary but for us at BluSky the name says it all: blue skies mean trust in the future, trust in ourselves.
Happy Birthday BluSky Services!

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Driverless vehicle demo in Lyon on 8 and 21 April 2015

On 21/03/2015, in The future is now, by steve

repriseNAVYA Technology will be hosting a demo of their driverless vehicle on 8 and 21 April at their test facility in Lyon, France. You can read more about the NAVYA shuttle here.

BluSky Services has been invited to attend the demo on 8 April and we will be more than happy to be present there and experience the driverless vehicle fist hand.

I am sure many of our readers will have read about the experiments being conducted by the likes of Google and others with driverless cars… It all sounds futuristic and possibly even far away in the future.

NAVYA Technology is a French startup with a dynamic and future oriented crew whose motto seems to be: we can do it! And they can indeed.
The NAVYA shuttle is perfectly capable of operating on public roads, recognizing road signs and traffic lights, avoiding obstacles and tirelessly plodding along the route it was told to follow. All this is done without any additional infrastructure. NAVYA knows the score without the need for wires or other expensive stuff on the road. Being all electric, the vehicle is also squeaky clean.

Airports are of course prime areas of operation for driverless vehicles. Repetitive routes, high frequency and perfect safety is what one needs there and NAVYA delivers. For the time being the targets are land-side and in-terminal operations but we see no reason why one day intelligent vehicles should not be a common sight around aircraft too.

The business case for operating the NAVYA type vehicles is compelling, regardless of the environment concerned. The fact that the vehicles do not need a driver in itself ensures cost savings that start generating a tidy return on investment in a very short time.

We will bring you a full report about the demo. But why not come and join is? There is still time to register. Send an email to Viktoria Fontanel if you would like to attend the demo on either 8 or 21 April or if you would like to have more information about the cute little NAVYA shuttle.

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Speaking in a new environment

On 18/03/2015, in Shop floor talk, by steve

speakerIn my long and varied aviation career I have had the extraordinarily good luck of working in practically every niche and corner of this wonderful industry. Air traffic controller, ATC system builder, ICAO officer, IATA assistant director, consultant… you name it. Over the years this meant a slow but very effective accumulation of knowledge and experience in air traffic management and airline operations with the added flavor of both the private and the government parts of the industry.

I was thinking about this last week when gingerly approaching a new area yet again… The Passenger Terminal Expo in Paris. Being invited as a speaker to this event is an honor in itself but the chance of meeting the folks whose business it is to make sure millions of passengers pass through the airports safely and comfortably felt like an additional special treat, as it was indeed.

The subject of my presentation was something that took form in a brainstorming session in Germany last year after having languished in an amorphous but insistent form in my mind for some time. Were the lesson learned and the methods used in aircraft trajectory based operations (TBO) applicable in the passenger terminal? Or putting it differently: do passengers have trajectories that could be managed to increase capacity?

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Aircraft seats and overripe tomatoes

On 17/03/2015, in ATC world, by steve

Old hands out there will not find much news in this article, though if you have not yet happened on my rumblings about airline behavior, you may in fact find it interesting. In fact, I am aiming for the attention of the many young air traffic controllers and others who still come to work every day wondering whether airlines are actually sane and who also believe that their main (or possibly only…) business is to ensure safety.
I do not blame them for thinking that airlines are irrational and the fallacy of being the key to aviation safety is also something that can be forgiven. It is a matter of education and in that respect, there is a lot that is lacking in to-day’s system.

May be, just may be, after reading this their view of the world will be slightly different, closer to reality and perhaps even better suited to adopting to the larger world (as opposed to their control center) in which they operate.

Let’s get this safety issue out of the way. All of us, working in aviation, has an important role in maintaining the extremely high level of safety the travelling public has come to expect. We do this by following rules and regulations, using approved parts and materials and apply our skills when an unforeseen event comes our way. When Boeing builds an aircraft, they are creating a very expensive business tool using which an airline can in turn create shareholder value. The aircraft must be fuel efficient, environmentally friendly and of course safe to operate. In that order. I know that we all grew up with the motto: safety first, but this is a misleading thing to say. If an aircraft is supremely safe but has lousy fuel economics, nobody will buy it. In other words, the aircraft must do its work supremely well and must do it safely.

The same is true of air traffic control. Although ICAO still puts the word “safety” as the first in the set of tasks of air traffic controllers (maintain a safe and efficient flow of traffic…) in to-day’s environment it means that the controller must do everything to ensure efficient operation of the airspace users and must do it in a way that is safe. The pre-determined procedures, airspace structures and what have you are designed to make this possible. The key to safety is in the system, not the controller. Use the system right and it will be safe… Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. It is not that I am trying to degrade the value of what controllers do. On the contrary. But if we are not careful, the “safety argument” can quickly become a block to progress and we end up with a system that is supremely safe but everyone forced to use it goes bankrupt. Ok, OK, this is a slight exaggeration but you get my drift.

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Single European Sky – Treading water, sinking… or?

On 16/03/2015, in SES News, by steve

There is a very interesting article in the 2-15 March issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology. They launch the story by saying that “after more than 10 years of talks, a single airspace in Europe is no closer to reality”. For someone new to this game, this would sound ominous indeed. For us veterans, the first thing that comes to mind is: so what else is new? I can recall many such articles published over the years and each time it was the same complaint: lots of words, little action, zero results.

I have written about the subject many times and in each case I tried to hint at what may be, just may be, the root cause of this lack of progress. I will try once more, not that I expect anyone to listen. But is I fun to go back in time and bring together a few salient facts that I think amply illustrate why we are where we are to-day and why it is going to be awfully hard to make real progress until some hard facts are in fact accepted… and something is done about them.

The concept of the Single European Sky is excellent and European aviation needs it more than anything else!

Back in 1984 it was a sunny fall afternoon when I arrived in Paris, to take up my new job at ICAO: technical officer RAC/SAR.

Airlines in Europe were in deep trouble. With a fragmented ATC system run almost like independent fiefdoms on the State level and traffic rising, scant attention was paid to creating new capacity. Instead the “solution” was to protect everyone’s home turf and limit the number of flights allowed in the airspace at a given time. Most flights were running with delays in excess of 30 minutes, various industrial actions were disrupting the ATM system even more and the old, also hopelessly fragmented flow control system was strained to the limits. Sectors loaded over capacity were a daily occurrence and it was not surprising: controllers deeply distrusted the system that was supposed to protect them from overloads. The result? The actually existing capacity was kept a secret and only a part was offered for use in the expectation that things will get overloaded anyway and with this trick at least the absolute maximum would not be exceeded. Delays went through the roof.

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Aircraft are no longer the most intelligent vehicles on an airport – Here comes NAVYA!

On 19/02/2015, in The future is now, by steve

When we say “airport” the picture that most easily comes into one’s mind is of aircraft moving around or waiting parked at the gate. A poor second is the masses of people milling around in the terminal, part of the organized chaos designed to ensure that in the end each and every one of them ends up in his or her assigned seat aboard the aircraft bound for his or her destination.

pax

Looking more closely one will of course notice that there are lots of vehicles of various sizes also moving about, both in- and outside the terminal and also on the aprons where aircraft are being turned around for their next flight. They move people, bags, catering, supplies and what have you. Inside the terminal smaller trolleys transport disabled passengers. What they all have in common is that the average trip length is rather limited and that the trips they make are repetitive. Just think of the hotel and car rental shuttles. Drive along all the terminals, plod over to the rental company lot and then start the whole thing again.

The bigger vehicles are usually equipped with radios and their drivers are in contact with the respective dispatchers. But when there is suddenly a peak in demand and an extra bus for the car rental folks would be really nice, it us usually not available because even if there is a reserve bus somewhere, there is probably no spare driver to take it into the fray.

The small electric trolleys used inside the terminal are even more of a problem. Most of the time they are parked not where they are needed and when they are needed, someone has to walk over to them and take them on a long trek to an arrival gate and then drive back again to the parking area, never mind that in 10 minutes it will be needed at the same far away gate once again.

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Trajectory based operations… for passengers in the terminal and beyond

On 18/02/2015, in CDM, by steve

Not long ago we were in the middle of a brainstorming session at the HQ of a partner company and in the middle of our discussions suddenly a picture popped into my mind. It was so outlandish that at first I tried to push it away and focus on the issues at hand. But the idea refused to go away. In fact it was clamoring for attention. It was all about symmetry.

When you look at an airport, one way to picture it is that it is in the middle, the focal point of a huge number of aircraft milling around, all determined to land while on the side it is the focus of a huge number of passengers milling around, determined to find their way to their respective aircraft.

In air traffic management we are moving away from the old concept of managing individual aircraft by looking at current position plus +/- 20 minutes to what is called TBO, trajectory based operations. You can read more about TBO in my articles here and here. I will explain a few things below but coming back to the passenger terminal, would it be possible to use the methods and experience gained with TBO also for managing the flow of passengers? By considering each and every one of them being on a trajectory that represents the best outcome for the passenger, the airport and the airline concerned and interceding whenever there is a deviation from this optimal trajectory. Just like we do with aircraft.

Sounds crazy? Well, bear with me a little longer before passing judgment.

First of all let’s agree on a definition of the word “trajectory”. For the purposes of this article, I will suggest that we say a trajectory is the path in the air or on the ground along which an object passes or planned to pass. Obviously, this object can be an aircraft… or a passenger. The trajectory is hence defined in 4 dimensions. We have the 3 spatial dimensions and the fourth dimension is time. There is also a fifth dimension, the economic value of the trajectory to the airline. This is a virtual dimension but its value is important in decision making (which flight to delay for example).

Where does the aircraft trajectory commence?

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Digital Avionics Systems Conference, Prague, 2015 September 13-17

On 16/02/2015, in Events, by steve

There is a wide choice of conferences in the aviation field to chose from if you have the time (and budget) to attend some of them. They all provide excellent networking opportunities and of course the content is also of interest. However, if I had to chose just one conference, the winner would be, by a wide margin, the Digital Avionics Systems Conference or DASC. Few events combine such a wealth of information with such a great lineup of experts to meet.

dasc

In 2015 the 34th DASC will be held in Prague, Czech Republic and so it is easy to reach for Europeans even on a low travel budget. I would really recommend that you participate. What is more, there is still time to submit a paper, so if you have something to share with the wider aviation community, here is your chance!

New avionics systems in the area of Communication, Navigation and Surveillance serve as a key enabler for future Air Traffic Management. To ensure that airlines equip in time, mandates for new and existing aircraft have been proposed. This year, the impact of global mandates on avionics research and development has been chosen as the conference theme. Both the Plenary and Technical Sessions will be addressing the theme and will include many people from around the world discussing how their countries and organizations are responding to the mandates.

A special track will focus on whether there is a need for mandates that address cyber-related vulnerabilities in the CNS infrastructure. In this context, papers are being sought that address security threats and vulnerabilities of communication and navigation systems in terms of information integrity, their potential impact on safety, human factors aspects related to the detection of sudden inconsistencies in the available information, and technical mitigations such as improvements in the area of information authentication.

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Regulations will facilitate integration of small UAS into U.S. aviation system

On 15/02/2015, in UAS, by steve

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today proposed a framework of regulations that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

uas

The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds. The FAA is asking the public to comment on this possible classification to determine whether it should include this option as part of a final rule. The FAA is also asking for comment about how the agency can further leverage the UAS test site program and an upcoming UAS Center of Excellence to further spur innovation at “innovation zones.”

The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found here. Separate from this proposal, the FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence.  These meetings will be announced in a future Federal Register notice.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

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