Technology

TEDGlobal: Visions of the future of flying

Concept plane, Airbus
The concept plane designed by Airbus

An aircraft with a lace-like structure may not seem like the best way to fly, but it is one of a range of radical ideas about how we may travel in the future.

A model of the aircraft, designed by Airbus, was shown off at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh.

Taking inspiration from the human skeleton, the design is both strong and relatively lightweight.

This means it could, in theory, drastically reduce the fuel costs of flying.

The European company said the aim would be to 3D print the composite material that would make the structure.

The concept aircraft was created by a team of structural engineers at Airbus.

Concept plane, Airbus
The inside of the aircraft would be very light

Other ideas for the future plane include an upward curve on the tail to reflect engine noise upwards and reduce noise pollution.

Inside the aircraft, Airbus engineers envisage new "zones" to replace the traditional seating, with "morphing" seats that are able to harvest energy from those sitting in them as well as change shape to fit the size of passengers.

At the front of the plane, the team suggested seating with integrated sensors that would be able to monitor health. And there could even be a gaming zone, where passengers could play virtual sports.

It was also suggested that instead of having small doors into the jet, as is currently the case, the planes of the future would have much wider entrances where people could leave their hand luggage.

Airplane seats, Airbus
The seats would mould to the shape of passengers

The bags would then be automatically delivered to their seats, preventing the problems of blocked aisles, meaning faster boarding.

Airbus engineer Bastian Schaefer said: "Flying in the future must remain affordable for both people and from an environmental perspective."

However, he acknowledged that design alone would not solve all his industry's problems.

"We are running out of oil and we have to find other solutions," he said.

"Some of this can be done via technology, but we are also looking for alternative fuels."

Alongside its own concept plane, the aircraft manufacturer also challenged students from around the world to develop their own eco-efficient ideas for aviation, with five finalist teams selected this week.

Their ideas include:

  • engine modification made from special shape-shifting materials to change airflow through the engine and reduce noise pollution
  • luggage floating on a bed of air
  • the use of methane as an energy source

Mr Schaefer thinks powering planes by gathering and liquefying cow flatulence would be a great idea if it could be made to work.

"Ten years ago there was the suggestion to use liquid hydrogen, but we are still waiting for someone to deliver good storage methods for this," he said.

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