Boeing's Chubby Hydrogen-Powered UAV Makes Its First Flight

Boeing's Phantom Eye unmanned surveillance aircraft takes off for the first time

2 min read
Boeing's Chubby Hydrogen-Powered UAV Makes Its First Flight

Most unmanned aerial vehicles are sleek, streamlined affairs that look like they belong in a science fiction movie. Not so with Boeing's Phantom Eye UAV: it's got long skinny wings sticking out of a body shaped like a chronically overfed gerbil. This is because it's stuffed full of hydrogen, allowing it to stay airborne for days at a time.

Phantom Eye is not a small aircraft: it's got a wingspan of 45 meters, and that gigantic belly it's got going on holds two about-half-as-gigantic tanks of hydrogen. With 200 kilograms of payload, Phantom Eye relies on all of this hydrogen to keep its engines and electronics running for days. Four days, that is, non-stop without having to land. Phantom Eye cruises up at 65,000 feet (about 20,000 meters), which is well above weather and  any other aircraft, and Boeing plans to deploy it as a long-duration surveillance platform.

Here's a video of the test flight: to save weight, Phantom Eye lands on skids, so to take off, it's got a little trolley-thing that it sits on top of until it gets airborne:

Now isn't that the most adorable unmanned aerial vehicle take-off that you've ever seen? I just want to give this thing a great big hug, with it's big chubby belly and little tiny trolley. Aww!

This first test flight lasted only 28 minutes, with Phantom Eye reaching about 4,000 feet at a speed of 150 knots, all autonomously. If the test program works out, Boeing plans an even larger production version of the aircraft that'll be able to carry four times as much payload and stay aloft for ten days, meaning that just a few of them could team up to provide constant surveillance anywhere in the world for literally years at a time.

[ Boeing ]

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

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By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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