“We need to de­cide as a na­tion how much power the govern­ment should have over our data and over our pri­vacy.” �Ash­lee Vance

Fill ’er up

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Technology -

be­comes clear all this re­mains the­o­ret­i­cal for now. The Boom en­gi­neers have built a mock cock­pit and pas­sen­ger cabin out of card­board and ply­wood. The black leather seats in the cabin came from Of­ficemax, and Scholl asked his team to sit in them for a few hours each to ex­pe­ri­ence what the plane will feel like. (It’s a bit cramped.) On the floor of the hangar, tape has been laid out to mimic the de­sign of a one-third-scale plane, which Boom says it’ll build and fly by the end of next year.

The Con­corde failed for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: ex­pen­sive tick­ets, sonic booms that nixed over­land travel, the slow­down in air travel af­ter Sept. 11. In the years since, the other cou­ple of ef­forts to build a su­per­sonic com­mer­cial jet fiz­zled, and the con­ven­tional aero­space wis­dom is that such projects are too ex­pen­sive and risky. “Very few peo­ple re­ally need to be some­where in three hours,” says Jeremy Con­rad, a for­mer U.S. Air Force of­fi­cer who runs hard­ware-fo­cused ven­ture firm Lem­nos Labs. “And have you trav­eled in­ter­na­tional busi­ness class lately? It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Con­rad says blus­tery Sil­i­con Val­ley types of­ten un­der­es­ti­mate how tough it is to build aero­space hard­ware that tests the bounds of physics. There are some re­cent ex­cep­tions, though, most no­tably Elon Musk’s Spacex and Jeff Be­zos’s Blue Ori­gin. Scholl and his team say a startup has the best shot at a pro­ject like theirs, be­cause it can get go­ing with­out loads of bu­reau­cracy and with rel­a­tively lit­tle money. To date, Boom has raised $2.1 mil­lion and says that will last it through the de­vel­op­ment stage, though it’ll even­tu­ally take tens or hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to take a plane to mar­ket.

Given the scale it’s plan­ning, Boom may have a chance, says Richard Aboulafia, an aero­space con­sul­tant at Teal Group. “At 40 seats, that is kind of in­trigu­ing,” he says. “It’s pos­si­ble that you would have enough routes with enough pas­sen­gers to jus­tify the de­vel­op­ment of this plane.” He’s more skep­ti­cal about the re­search and de­vel­op­ment costs. Boom says it’ll tweak offthe-shelf en­gines for su­per­sonic flight, but Scholl won’t say how. “You kind of de­sign a plane around an en­gine rather than the other way around,” Aboulafia says. “Let me know when we can hear their en­gine.”

Be­yond next year’s test flight, Scholl isn’t pro­vid­ing a time­line for reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger travel. He says only that a U.k.-based air­line he won’t name has signed a let­ter of in­tent to pur­chase $2 bil­lion worth of planes when they’re ready and that he’ll keep refining the de­sign to make trips way more af­ford­able. “I want to live in a world where you can get any­where in five hours for $100,” he says. “That will take decades, but I think we’ll get there.”

“You kind of de­sign a plane around an en­gine rather than the other way around. Let me know when we can hear their en­gine.” �Richard Aboulafia, aero­space con­sul­tant at Teal Group Ap­ple Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Tim Cook dur­ing the iphone SE launch an­nounce­ment on March 21 The bot­tom line Aero­space startup Boom is work­ing on what it says will be a rel­a­tively cheap jet that can fly at Mach 2.2. Later that day, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice asked a mag­is­trate judge to can­cel a March 22 court hear­ing, say­ing it had found a way to un­lock iphones with­out Ap­ple’s help

“Fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments may need to re­think how they reg­u­late and li­cense ve­hi­cles for the fu­ture,” said Chair­man John Thune (R-S.D.). “We must be care­ful not to stymie in­no­va­tion be­cause of a lack of imag­i­na­tion.”

Within a decade, 1 in 8 cars sold around the world will have au­ton­o­mous fea­tures, mak­ing them a $42 bil­lion-ayear mar­ket, Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group es­ti­mates. Xavier Mos­quet, a se­nior part­ner for BCG’S au­to­mo­tive prac­tice, says per­fect­ing the tech­nol­ogy re­quires mass ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, which in turn re­quires con­sis­tent le­gal stan­dards.

Im­prov­ing car de­signs through trial and er­ror shouldn’t be the pub­lic’s task, says John Simp­son, an ad­vo­cate at non­profit Con­sumer Watch­dog. Google’s test cars have logged more than 1 mil­lion miles on pub­lic roads over the years yet still oc­ca­sion­ally need driv­ers to take over to avoid a crash. Dur­ing the Se­nate hear­ing, Duke Univer­sity ro­bot­ics pro­fes­sor Mary Louise Cum­mings warned that self- driv­ing cars aren’t ready for mass de­ploy­ment and said NHTSA shouldn’t is­sue stan­dards for them any­time soon. “There is no ques­tion that some­one’s go­ing to die in this tech­nol­ogy,” she said. “The ques­tion is when and what can we do to min­i­mize that.”

The feds aren’t mov­ing at light­ning speed; NHTSA has planned some pub­lic meet­ings over the next few months. For now, Sil­i­con Val­ley lob­by­ing group Technet says it’s track­ing about 80 state bills that could af­fect au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. “Clearly some of them are go­ing to be com­pet­ing with Cal­i­for­nia in terms of try­ing to be the re­search bed or the de­ploy­ment bed of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles,” says David Strick­land, a for­mer NHTSA head who lob­bies for the law firm Ven­able.

Dur­ing March’s an­nual South by South­west con­fer­ence in Austin, Mayor Steve Adler wel­comed other U.S. may­ors to the city to show off the pod­like Google cars crawl­ing around the state cap­i­tal. In Utah, state Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Spendlove has pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to study au­ton­o­mous de­signs and says he hopes his state will be more le­nient than Cal­i­for­nia. He wants to be “en­cour­ag­ing the test­ing, en­cour­ag­ing the op­er­a­tion,” he says, “rather than be­ing re­ally heavy on regulation.” �Tim Hig­gins

bil­lion The pro­jected mar­ket for au­ton­o­mous car

fea­tures in 2025 The bot­tom line Google is push­ing for fed­eral pre­emp­tion of laws on self-driv­ing cars, though some states are ea­ger to get them on the road.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.