Image credit: Aerospace Industries Association
With the commercial airline industry experiencing an astounding 90 percent drop in travel during the pandemic, those in the aerospace and defense industry are not looking back, but rather staying focused on what lies ahead, including how technology will be used to advance the industry forward.
Torsten Welte, global vice president and head of Aerospace & Defense, Travel & Transportation at SAP, recently shared in a podcast on IoT Integrator Wire that the aerospace industry is already starting to recalibrate to position itself for operational recovery. He noted that aerospace companies are moving toward more automation for a manufacturing restart, using everything from robotic worms that can crawl along a wing and drill precision holes to visual AI for quality control.
IoT and data analytics will play a vital role in aerospace in the coming years. Welte states that the modern aircraft contains 2,000+ IoT sensors that generate massive amounts of critical operational data each day. Using that data will help aerospace companies not only become more efficient, but continue to innovate.
Massive Surge in Connected IoT
That innovation is outlined in detail in a recent report, What’s Next for Aerospace and Defense: A Vision for 2050. Compiled by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) in partnership with McKinsey & Company, the report looks at the opportunities the A&D industry will face in the future, painting a picture of life in 2050. It predicts air taxis for commuters, delivery drones for packages, supersonic travel between continents, and new frontiers of space exploration. The report also outlines some of the opportunities for solution integrators in A&D, including new usage for IoT devices and automation.
Rusty Rentsch, Vice President, Technical Operations for AIA, noted in a presentation about the report that in the next 30 years, the A&D industry “will be a driving force behind the way the world moves, connects, explores, and inspires.” Universal connectivity will set the stage for the expansion of cloud computing, high-capacity processing, and universal monitoring and observation—all of which also contribute to rapid, reliable, and accurate integration of unstructured data.
Such a network will support a massive surge in the number of connected IoT devices, which will in turn lead to expanding and strengthening that network. The benefits and risks of such interconnected tools and solutions will have impacts in both civilian and military applications.
One goal of the report was to provide a framework for how the industry needs to adapt and change technologically and culturally to achieve the vision. The A&D industry will continue to be at the forefront of technological advancements that shape many key facets of modern life, specifically within four core mission areas:
- Moving people and goods;
- Creating, sensing, and connecting;
- Securing and defending our national interests;
- Research and exploration.
The Intelligent Technology Drivers
The learnings AIA gathered in the Vision 2050 report were compiled from several years of research and interviews. Their answers provide insights into what to expect from A&D in 2050. One prediction is that the future will include full integration of drones into the economy. The drones will be performing agricultural tasks such as planting and soil maintenance as well as infrastructure repairs for roads and bridges.
The report also cites that the 2050 world will offer alternatives to people traveling on congested roads by a fleet of urban air mobility vehicles, or air taxis. In addition, a resurgence of supersonic flight will make business travel faster and more efficient than ever before.
The report also notes that innovation in 2050 doesn’t end at the atmospheric border. “Greater accessibility to space creates new markets and business opportunities for many different A&D companies and integrators,” said Rentsch.
The Role of Artificial Intelligence
The research predicts that most of these advancements in the next 30 years will be possible through the use of artificial intelligence. Widespread AI, cloud-based technology, and constantly updated data will make it possible for autonomous aerial vehicles, including drones, air taxis, and air ambulances, to navigate the world.
AI decision-making based on insights from integrated data sources will support military operations and protect armed forces on the battlefield. The research notes that ultimately, AI will provide platform-level autonomy that will minimize human involvement in combat.
While this vision is optimistic, achieving it will require company leaders in the A&D industry and across the value chain to take action that will enable progress. These actions include some straightforward innovation, such as changing manufacturing processes. Others will require collaboration among stakeholders that will facilitate technological and infrastructure improvements.
Creating, Sensing, and Connecting
The report adds that inventive applications hover on the horizon. Given the mineral riches floating in the cosmos, commercial space manufacturing and mining may move from fiction to reality. Developments in creating, sensing, and connecting will lead to new use cases for air and space as sites of economic activity.
For instance, UAVs will perform tasks such as roof repairs, insurance assessments, and agricultural operations. In space, UAVs might help with manufacturing and mining tasks that are too dangerous, dull, or expensive for a human operator—or too difficult and expensive to achieve on earth. To help satisfy demand for observation data, images will be captured in multiple wavelengths (such as infrared or radar) to provide richer data for analytics and pattern recognition. This persistent “multispectral observation” of the entire world, when augmented with AI, will enable observers to shift from change detection to more sophisticated pattern recognition.
Combined with analytic engines that process large amounts of real-time data from diverse sources, this evolution will generate more accurate readings and richer insights while reducing uncertainty in decision-making.
The report predicts that the demand for faster, more accurate, and safer universal connectivity will be “relentless” in the future. Data flows will likely be path-agnostic as they are dynamically and automatically routed by AI. For example, a packet of information could move seamlessly between terrestrial fiber networks, satellites, and airborne transmissions as it moves from sender to receiver.
The report predicts that sensing and connecting use cases will be widespread by 2050. These include low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite constellations that provide constant global communications coverage, as well as ground-based technology that provides coverage for terrestrial communication and connectivity. If supported by infrastructure that increases reliability, this seamless global broadband connectivity will support vast IoT networks, communications, and broadcasts.
Navigating the Way to 2050
Rentsch notes that aerospace is already a data-centric industry, and it will continue along that path. As the 2050 Vision becomes more of a reality, time to market for innovations will be reduced dramatically, as innovation scenarios can be simulated along the value chain for optimized decision-making based on current and future environments.
- Tune in to the IoT Integrator Wire podcast episode, “Riding Through Turbulence: What’s Next for Aerospace & Transportation.”
- Watch the video, “Vision 2050: The Way to What’s Next.”
- Download the full AIA report, What’s Next for Aerospace and Defense: A Vision for 2050.