Honeywell’s Compact Fly-By-Wire System Brings Flying Cars Closer to Reality

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It’s a car, it’s a plane. No it’s an urban mobility vehicle. Yep, flying will be coming to a showroom near you. When? Can’t say with any certainty. Folks over at the MIT Technology Review show current flying cars in development with delivery dates ranging from 2020-2025.

  • Benefitting both traditional and VTOL aircraft, Honeywell’s new fly-by-wire system puts the brains of the aircraft into a package the size of a paperback book
  • The system provides a solution to the weight problem, which can be an obstacle in getting VTOLs off the ground
  • Built-in redundancy and backup systems address fears of machine malfunction

In getting flying cars off the ground, weight is a big issue. To fly a conventional fixed-wing aircraft requires a flight control system consisting of flight control surfaces, cockpit controls, connecting linkages and mechanisms to control an aircraft’s direction in flight. Engine controls also fall within the category. That’s heavy baggage.

The aerospace contractor Honeywell has revealed a new book on the subject that could solve the weight problem. Actually, its new “fly-by-wire” system is approximately the size of a paperback book – and can be fit in one hand. Inside, resides the brains of an airplane’s flight controls.

An Evolution Of Existing Technology

Already in existence in certain aircraft, the fly-by-wire (FBW) system is an electronic interface replacing manual flight controls with an electronic interface. It gets its name because electronic signals transmit via wires to computers to control the aircraft instead of traditional mechanical cables, linkages or hydraulics.

By eliminating the need for heavy mechanical system, FBW shaves weight and can also allow for more aerodynamic designs. It also works to add stability to what are referred to as VTOLs (vertical takeoff and landing vehicles) by connecting automated stability control systems directly to flight controls.

Honeywell used architecture derived from its existing fly-by-wire systems and miniaturize it for VTOLs. It’s downright Lilliputian when compared to those used in traditional aircraft that are the size and weight of a fully-packed suitcase. Though much smaller, Honeywell’s new fly-by-wire system uses less power, costs “a fraction of current systems”, and can take over flying duties in a range of aircrafts, including traditional models.

WIll Autonomous Flying Cars Be Safe?

Whenever we hand over human duties to machines, there’s an initial hesitation. We fear the machine won’t be able to do the job as well as we can. Only once we believe machines are better at certain tasks than we are, will we cede the reigns. There won’t be a wholesale of acceptance of autonomous vehicles until people buy into this concept called posthumanism.

Still, digital systems can fail, and that’s particularly scary to think about in flight. Honeywell addresses these concerns with a triplex flight control computer architecture, which means there are multiple backup options to avoid system failure. In addition to built-in redundancy, each computer uses lockstep processing, two processing channels that constantly check each other’s work.

Honeywell plans to demonstrate the new system June 11–12 at the Uber Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C. If all goes well, you could be flying home as early as next year.


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