Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yuneec With a Passion For Flying

One of the surprises at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the airplane I found in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Being one of those folks who have to look skyward anytime an airplane flies overhead, spying an airplane sitting in an automobile parking lot pretty much guarantees I will stroll over to see what might be learned.  As it turns out, this particular airplane was parked in the parking lot show booth of Yuneec Aviation Technology.

Parent company Yuneec International (www.yuneec.com) is a leader in developing and manufacturing electric propulsion systems for planes and other personal transport systems.  The airplane in the parking lot was Yuneec’s all electric, light-sport-aircraft (LSA), two-seat flyer.  Cool!

As I was admiring the sleek lightweight looking lines of the new airplane, one of the booth personnel strolled over and asked if I had any questions. With an opening like that, how could I resist?  And so, I began quizzing the young man about the performance factors of the airplane. To my pleasant surprise, I quickly learned I was actually speaking with, not your ordinary CES booth worker, but rather the test pilot himself.

Full of energy and of course a passion for flying, this gentleman wanted to tell me everything possible about the airplane’s impressive accomplishments. In rapid fire order, I learned that the Yuneec GW430 airplane can haul a max weight of 1,041 pounds skyward, cruise at 100 MPH (max), glide with a 24:1 ratio and land at a stall speed of just 40 MPH.  The all-electric motor cranked out 64 horsepower, weighed just 42 pounds and could recharge in 3-5 hours on 110 or 240 volt supplies.

Given a max flight time of just about 90 minutes before needing to return to the charger, I suggested that the flight to recharge cycle time was a little long.  My comment merely elicited a big smile and a full explanation of how the battery pack was designed to just drop down for disconnection so another fully charged battery pack could be bolted right in taking no more time than a typical refueling effort.  Thus, the test pilot explained that one airplane and maybe two spare batteries could easily serve as the perfect training choice for most flight school situations.  No gas costs and none of the typical gasoline engine related operating costs sure seem to be great advantages Yuneec can win in the market with.

Yuneec aircraft is in their final stages of test flight at this point and looking to be in manufacturing and on sale later in 2014 with decisions being made now as to how come to go-tomarket, at what price, via what distribution means, etc.

With International corporate headquarters in Hong Kong, this particular test pilot and airplane were stationed in the Los Angeles area where my new found friend reported his only issue was the desire for more and more flight time (who among us has not murmured something similar!).

As my appetite for information about the Yuneec airplane was satiated, I began to wonder why, even though the product is an innovative and all electrical design, a company would take a booth with all the related expense to be at CES where they were the only airplane in the parking lot of the show.

That's about when I noticed the all-electric, motorized skateboards that were whizzing back-and-forth just outside of the aircraft's parking perimeter.  Also from Yuneec, the E-GO motorized skateboard was carrying folks up to 200 pounds at speeds up to 12.5 MPH with a range of about 3 hours’ time. While there were a few CES show goers who might have been better as crash test dummies, most of them took to the E-GO  skateboard with ease and with very big smiles and lots of laughter; a good sign for the company Yuneec. And while this year, skateboards were the only Yuneec product open to the show-goer for demo rolls, maybe next year, show-goers will be able to line up for demo flights in new GW430 aircraft. One can only hope!

I shook hands with the friendly test pilot, wished him and the company well, smiled again at the motorized skateboard fans zipping back and forth, and then wandered my way back inside the Consumer Electronics Show to see what surprise might yet be in the wings.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Apple, Google, Sony and Avionics? Oh My!

Apple, Google, Sony and the Avionics industry; what is the connection?

While an Aviation fan might initially shake off any connection, it might prove useful to the avionics world to consider potential lessons to be gleaned from Apple, Google, and Sony.
  • The Apple of the avionics world might just be Garmin In The Air.  Both companies have large market share positions in their respective fields. Both consider their design skills to be top-notch.  And both have a proprietary-based orientation to a world where their customer should prefer only using their brand of equipment and services.  Thus, both brands have “fan boys” who think only their brand counts!
  • Google might best be represented in the avionics world by Aspen Avionics.  Still young, fresh, a bit of an upstart, and wide open to getting all devices to talk together and share data to the user’s benefit.  Aspen’s “Connected Pilot” program is a great example of the free flowing data stream that can be enabled among whatever devices the aviator wishes to use.  How to maximize the benefit and value of all that data is the question.
  • Bendix/King might best be thought of as the Sony of this analogy.  Steeped in a rich legacy of being the very best and perhaps most widely adopted early cockpit technology, Bendix/King is striving to prove they are relevant in much the same way Sony is striving to be relevant anew to consumers who never knew a Trinitron, Betamax, or Walkman.  Both companies however, need to look and leap forward, resisting the pull of the rear view mirror and in-bred preferences to rely on the strength of past legacies.
Next, consider how certain key trends within the avionics world play to the above analogy. 
  • As with Apple iPhones, iPads, and Garmin screens, touchscreens are all the rage.  OK, so you have to support touch features.  However, new innovation is needed to smooth out the implementation.  Have you ever touched the wrong thing at the wrong time on an iPad while simply sitting on the couch?  It usually happens because you are not concentrating on landing your finger precisely on the screen as much as you are paying attention to something beyond the pad.  Sounds like flying in anything other than straight and level, smooth air.  Touchscreens need more innovative support bezels and maybe more tactile surfaces on the glass itself.  Oh, and maybe good ol’ hard buttons still have a role to play.
  • Google has learned lots about security between Chrome, Android, Gmail, etc.  The key lesson though is that no matter how attractive and useful connecting all these devices can be for the user, those connections must be secure ones or you are just asking for trouble down the line.  Aspen Avionics is likely learning of this reality with their Connected Pilot program, but as an industry, there is much yet to tackle security wise.
  • At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, one of Sony’s keynote announcements was an ultra-short throw laser projector meant to sit within inches of a wall and still project a bigger than ten foot image in ultra-high-definition.  Now, ten-foot screens are obviously not needed in the cockpit of a typical 172 but the same base level, laser technology showed up in a very small pair of micro-projectors in the Sony booth that suggest a glimpse of what could be possible beyond today’s glass panels.  Bendx/King is talking about the display from the perspective of possible heads-up-displays and even projectors that can place data where it needs to be in the cockpit (beyond the idea of a Google-glass, near-eye experience) instead of in the place of the old-time six-pack panel.
Might Avionics and the Consumer Electronics World play together?
  • Is Apple likely to be up for collaborating with Garmin?  Probably not.  Two 800 hundred pound gorillas rarely play together, or so one might imagine.
  • What about Google and Aspen Avionics?  Maybe.  Once Aspen gets all these devices talking to one another in the cockpit, the security issues and deciding what to do with all the data that gets generated, both suggest there may be some cool ways for the two to collaborate.  Besides, Google is already getting into the airport business with their $82M facility at the San Jose airport!
  • Sony and Bendix/King?  This combination could have some real potential if the conversation could just get started.  Sony’s expertise in video, audio, wireless networking, and projection as well as headset displays, could be fertile ground for exploration.  Not to mention Sony’s huge experience in sensors from wearables to image capturing technologies.  Collaboration might create the unique new offerings two legacy strong companies need to break out once again.
Summary

So, perhaps the Avionics industry does have a connection with Sony, Google and Apple.  At the very least, lifting one’s head out of the immediate challenge and looking to adjacent fields using similar technology may serve as a source of inspiration, new growth, and partnerships in worthy and potentially innovation producing activities.  Thinking even more broadly, the marketing and new business model explorations of the Consumer Electronics world are also worth review by the Avionics world - thought that is best as a thought for a future post.  Now, if only FAA regulations could be so readily innovated!
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