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Joby Aviation raises $590 million led by Toyota to launch an electric air taxi service

By Darrell Etherington

Joby Aviation has raised a $590 million Series C round of funding, including $394 million from lead investor Toyota Motor Corporation, the company announced today. Joby is in the process of developing an electric air taxi service, which will make use of in-house developed electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that will in part benefit from strategic partner Toyota’s vehicle manufacturing experience.

This brings the total number of funding in Joby Aviation to $720 million, and its list of investors includes Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and more. Alongside this new round of funding, Joby gains a new board member: Toyota Motor Corporation EVP Shigeki Tomoyama.

Founded in 2009, Joby Aviation is based in Santa Cruz, California. The company was founded by JoeBen Bevirt, who also founded consumer photo and electronics accessory maker Joby. Its proprietary aircraft is a piloted eVTOL, which can fly at up to 200 miles per hour for a total distance of over 150 miles on a single charge. Because it uses an electric drivetrain and multi rotor design, Joby Aviation says it’s “100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead.”

These benefits make eVTOL craft prime candidates for developing urban aerial transportation networks, and a number of companies, including Joby as well as China’s EHang, Airbus and more are all working on this type of craft for use in this kind of city-based short-hop transit for both people and cargo.

The sizeable investment made by Toyota in this round is a considerable bet for the automaker on the future of air transportation. In a press release detailing the round, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda indicated that the company is serious about eVTOLs and air transport in general.

“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky,” Toyoda is quoted as saying. “As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionize future transportation and life. Through this new and exciting endeavor, we hope to deliver freedom of movement and enjoyment to customers everywhere, on land, and now, in the sky.”

Joby Aviation believes that it can achieve significant cost benefits vs. traditional helicopters for short aerial flights, eventually lowering costs through maximizing utilization and fuel savings to the point where it can be “accessible to everyone.” To date, Joby has completed sub-scale testing on its aircraft design, and begun full flight tests of production prototypes, along with beginning the certification process for its aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the end of 2018.

DJI Mavic Mini Review

By Matt Burns

The $399 Mavic Mini lives in a sweet spot of core features and a low price. It packs everything critical to be a quality drone. It has a good camera, good range, and a good controller. It holds up well in the wind and is quick enough to be fun. And it’s so small that you’re more likely to throw it in your bag and take it on Instagram adventures.

The small size is the Mavic Mini’s main selling point. It weighs 249 grams, and that odd number isn’t an accident. Drones that weight 250 grams and above have to be registered to fly. And yet, even though the Mavic Mini is lightweight and foldable, it’s packed with core features: 30 minute flight time, 4 km HD video transmission, 3-axis gimbal holding a 2.7K camera, and a physical controller that works with Android and iOS devices. At $399, it’s a lot of drone for the money even though it’s missing features found in DJI’s other drones.

There are more expensive drones packed with a lot of features. I own most of those drones. They’re fun, but several years ago, feature creep started sneaking into DJI’s products. Now, with a convoluted product line, a spreadsheet is needed to deceiver DJI’s drones. Most come loaded with countless features owners will likely never use. The Mavic Mini is something different. It’s basic, and I dig it.

Here’s what’s missing: collision detection, ultra-long-range connection, 4k camera, gesture control, and advanced camera features like trackable follow, panoramic, timelapse, and optical zoom.

The Mavic Mini is quick enough to be fun, but it won’t win any races. It’s responsive and fast enough. Light and easy. Compared to a Mavic 2, it feels smaller and less powerful — because it is — and yet it never feels too small or underpowered. The Mavic Mini is well balanced, and owners should find it enjoyable to fly.

Despite its tiny size, the Mavic Mini holds up well in high wind. I took it up to 200m on a windy fall day in the Midwest. The wind was clearing leaves off the trees, and I was bundled up in hat and gloves. It was gusty. The Mavic Mini didn’t care. It took off like a drone much larger and stood tall against the wind. What’s more, the video didn’t suffer. The gimbal held the camera steady as it recorded the autumn landscape.

The drone uses DJI’s new app, and I’m using a beta version to test the drone. Called DJI Fly, it’s a streamlined version of DJI Go and packs several enhancements. Safe fly zones are better integrated into the app and have an additional level of detail over the older app. DJI also better built-in support for its social community app, SkyPixel. However, as this version is streamlined, it lacks a lot of information standard on the Go version, most notable, a mini-map in the bottom corner of the screen. I’m hoping DJI adds more features to this app after it launches.

[gallery ids="1907926,1907927,1907929,1907932,1907930,1907931"]

The camera is good for the price. The pictures here were taken from the drone and not altered or adjusted. They were taken on cloudy and sunny days. The range is surprisingly good as the drone can capture blue skies and dark highlights. Occasionally in direct sunlight, the camera colors become washed out.

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s where the Mavic Mini comes in. The best drone is the one you have with you. For years, I lugged around a massive Pelican case containing Phantom 2 and later a Phantom 3. I thought I was the coolest. At a moment’s notice, I could go to my car’s trunk and retrieve a suitcase containing a flying camera. A few minutes later, after my phone synced to the drone, and the controller joined the drone’s network, I had 15 minutes of flight time. Then came the foldable Mavic, which fit alongside my camera gear like a large telephoto lens. Other drones came and went. I liked the GoPro Karma for a time.

The tiny Mavic Mini is a game-changer. It’s small enough that I’ll bring it everywhere. It’s small and light enough that it feels like a large point and shoot in my computer bag.

Want more features and a better camera but keep the portable size? Earlier this year DJI announced the $919 foldable Mavic Air that has a 4k camera and 5 mile video transmission.

The Mavic Mini gets everything right. It’s small, comes with a lovely case, and in a $499 bundle, two extra batteries with a clever charging pack. The camera is surprisingly good though admittedly less powerful than DJI’s more expensive drones. The Mavic Mini is the perfect drone for a first-timer or experienced drone enthusiast. DJI stuff enough features into the 249 gram body to make this a fantastic drone for anyone.

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DJI Mavic Mini announcement

Reaction Engines’ Mach 5 engine is just the tip of the new aerospace boom

By Mike Butcher

Imagine a hypersonic passenger aircraft that would cut the journey time between London and New York to around two hours. At Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, the aircraft would complete a trip across the Atlantic in around 120 minutes. Mach 5 is more than twice as fast as the cruising speed of Concorde and over 50% faster than the SR-71 Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet-engine powered aircraft. A flight across the Pacific would take roughly three hours. Flight times from London to Sydney could be 80% shorter. Who needs Elon Musk?

Reaching these speeds would require an aircraft engine that has never previously existed. But last week, the world got a glimpse of a new future via a project which has been germinating for 30 years.

Reaction Engines was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls Royce: Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott Scott. Their idea was that in order for an engine to reach hypersonic speeds, the air going into it would have to be rapidly cooled, otherwise the engine would melt. Reaction’s breakthrough was inventing a “precooler” or heat exchanger which can take the air down to minus 150 degrees centigrade in less than a 20th of a second.

These ultra-lightweight “heat exchangers” would enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. Thus the SABRE – Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine – was born. The Sabre engine “breathes” air to make 20 per cent of the journey to orbit, before switching to rocket mode to complete the trip.

Last week, Reaction Engines passed a significant milestone. It successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5.

The ground-based test at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US, saw the precooler successfully operate at temperatures of 420ᵒC (~788ᵒF) – matching the thermal conditions corresponding to Mach 3.3 flight.

Reaction Engines

But this technology wouldn’t just be applicable to hypersonic flight. The precooler technology, developed by Reaction Engines, would significantly enhance the performance of existing jet engine technology, along with applications in automotive, aerospace, energy and industrial processes. Reaction Engines has attracted development funding from the British government, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the European Space Agency. It’s also raised over £100m from public and private sources and has secured investment from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing’s venture capital arm HorizonX. Reaction is expected to start building and testing a demonstrator engine next year.

The success of Reaction Engines to date is a sign that the ‘AerospaceTech’ sector is now booming. It is most certainly not alone.

Last month, Boeing and the UK government launched a £2m accelerator program to look for new innovations in this area. Boeing’s HorizonX is backing the initiative.

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