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Transportation Earth News Science Technology

Pod Planes Could Change Travel Forever (cnn.com) 298

Max_W writes: Every year we hear about people dying in plane crashes. This does not have to continue as there is a new revolutionary pod plane design [in the works via the Clip-Air project]. A passenger pod is not heavy because it does not contain fuel, engines, avionics, etc., so in case of an accident it can be ejected and land on parachutes. The obstacle to this new invention is that the whole obsolete airport and airline infrastructure must be rebuilt. So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s? The Clip-Air project is created by Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic Institute and consists of the flying component, which includes airframe, cockpit and engines, and the capsules, which are a number of detachable pods that can act as cabin or cargo hold, depending on the chosen configuration. What's particularly noteworthy about them is that they can allow passengers to board capsules well before a flight, and at a location besides an airport, such as a local bus station. As with any concept, many years of research and tests will be needed to validate the concept and turn it into a reality. Claudio Leonardi, manager of the Clip-Air project, and his team are preparing to build a small-scale Clip-Air prototype. They have already initiated some contacts with the aerospace industry.
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Pod Planes Could Change Travel Forever

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  • Hyperloop will replace all forms of long-distance transportation. And you'll use your Tesla S once you get there. Elon wins.

    • by bzn ( 4535625 )
      Forget Hyperloop! In several years, Elon will have perfected RAAS (Rocket as a service, if you will), and we'll be able to call them from our Hololens', and have them arrive like Ubers'!
      • I thought an apostrophe was there to warn you that an s was coming, not notify you that you just missed one.

    • Saw a similar concept on Gizmag a few years back except that the pod was loaded onto the fuselage where the current passenger compartment is
      • Yes, need! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mysticgoat ( 582871 )

        The pod-plane makes a lot of sense for cargo. That should be looked at separately from the case for people transport.

        The story underplays the importance of the standardized shipping container when it says it was the most important development in commerce in the last century. By many measures, it is the most important development in commerce, ever. But it is of little use in air freight. But aerodynamic shipping containers ---pods--- that could travel long distances at high speeds without repacking would no

        • Re:Yes, need! (Score:5, Informative)

          by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @11:27AM (#52456363)

          I expect to see pod-planes for general cargo before 2025.

          You already have this today. Here's a typical 747 cargo-pod configuration:

          https://www.ups.com/aircargo/i... [ups.com]

          Here are the pods going in:

          http://www.ainonline.com/sites... [ainonline.com]

      • by slew ( 2918 )

        Saw a similar concept on Gizmag a few years back except that the pod was loaded onto the fuselage where the current passenger compartment is

        Apparently, this showed up as an Airbus patent [slashdot.org] last year (presumably to "fix" the issue of embark/disembark time of a big plane like an A380).
        Also saw a similar idea presented in the First International Paper Airplane Contest (sponsored by Scientific American back in 1967).

        Pods are probably a better idea if combined with the idea of a containerized multi-modal cargo. Imagine if you can board a pod on a rail transport at a city center. The pod moves by rail to an airport where the passengers do not have to

  • by inflex ( 123318 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:12AM (#52455007) Homepage Journal

    The mass penalty / structural workarounds, and the low incentive (given how few fatal crashes there are with air travel) will see this being pushed to the "amusing thought" pile and no real further. Much like massive parachutes from a long time ago ( some people use them on their smaller planes though ).

    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [ecirpdrahcir]> on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:40AM (#52455061)

      I agree with this post - airline economics, for both passenger and freight, is built around the cost to transport each kilogram a certain distance. That cost includes both the trip costs (fuel and crew) and also capital costs (purchase and maintenance) - which is why current generations of aircraft are based around both lowering the fuel burn, and lowering the amount of time a maintenance worker has to touch the aircraft.

      A "c-check" of an airliner already costs up to a million dollars, takes months to carry out and needs to be done every few years with older aircraft, with longer intervals for aircraft such as the 787 or A350 - add more complexity to the airframe, such as ejection systems et al, and you vastly increase the maintenance time needed.

      And thats without discussing the whole issue of having pyrotechnics sitting near the pressurised vessel containing the passengers...

      So unless there can be found a way for the economics to not be affected by the addition of ejection systems, they simply will not happen - if you want near zero deaths in commercial aviation, the only thing this is going to accomplish is to make commercial aviation unaffordable for most people.

      General aviation aircraft (think light aircraft) already are being equipped with parachute systems which are deployed if the aircraft is unrecoverable. And they are used. And they save lives. But general aviation is a *lot* more accident prone than commercial aviation, so there is no reason to foist this on commercial aviation.

      • by MasseKid ( 1294554 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @09:14AM (#52455591)
        If you want near zero deaths in commercial aviation, you only need to look to the present. Last year there were exactly zero passenger deaths from western built jets if you exclude acts of violence. (Parachutes won't save you from a bomb) That is a number that includes 3.7 billion tickets and 32 million miles of flying.
        • 2015 was a good year (but only if you consider pure *jets* as you do - you miss the several turbo prop crashes that occurred last year), but we are already past that in 2016, just barely more than halfway through the year.

        • by NatasRevol ( 731260 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @09:48AM (#52455759) Journal

          Why do we need near zero deaths in aviation?

          It's still about the safest form of transport there is.

          Spend the big $$ on better car automation. Build automation-only highways.

          Dozens of deaths vs tens of thousands of deaths.

          • Because we are emotional creatures, and exotic* things make a bigger impact on our judgement. (*English doesn't have a word for it like some other languages do, so I'm using the word exotic. It's the upsetting "that's just not right" or "this shouldn't be happening" feeling you get when you see something unusually discomforting or really unfair.)

            It's why the press gives much more attention to certain types of stories - because our emotional reaction makes us unable to look away, like watching a train w
          • Indeed. Airline safety is already at the point that the most dangerous part of a trip by air is, by far, driving to the airport. We're probably already well into the domain of diminishing returns, and there are far better ways the resources could be spent.

        • by drainbramage ( 588291 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @03:21PM (#52458091)

          What if you just follow the instructions?
          1) Light Fuse.
          2) Get Away.
          3) Pull Ripcord.
          4) ????
          5) Prophet!

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        The cost of hauling an extra couple of kilograms today works out to about a million dollars in extra fuel over the service life of the airframe. Unless those pods and parachutes weigh less than the current seat and overhead bins, they're going to be rejected by the airlines. Either that or the price for riding in a pod will be based on total pod weight, resulting in fares substantially higher than today's ticket prices.

        Some things would be different, of course. Pods could be routed to an off-airport TSA c

    • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:35AM (#52455215)

      Agreed. I'm not an engineer. but this design does not look like it is more aerodynamically efficient than current commercial aircraft. That in turn means it will likely consume more fuel, which probably makes it a non-starter. It's tempting to envision some efficiency gained by being able to load travelers into multiple pods simultaneously instead of into the aircraft itself...through one door. But then those pods have to be transported and secured to the underbelly which would likely take longer. Terminals maybe wouldn't have to be as large since you wouldn't have to safely accommodate the wingspan of the aircraft, but you'd need to rebuild the entire airport infrastructure to do it. It just doesn't make sense.

      You know what also doesn't make sense? This tagline from one of the photos: Seamless transfer - In theory, Clip-Air passengers could board a bus in one country, then travel by road, rail and air without leaving the comfort of the same seat.

      Apparently, the person that wrote that doesn't travel much.

    • More to the point, most airliner crashes occur around takeoff or landing, at which time a parachute won't help.

      If you're flying a light personal aircraft, and you're not a professional pilot, there's a significant frequency of "getting in over your head" incidents at altitude. In these cases a parachute can help, and there's a line of airplanes (Cirrus) so equipped. But in airline service, I don't think it would move the needle much in fatality statistics.

    • The article is loaded, too. "So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?"

      The cost of an infrastructure undertaking (or anything, really) competes for labor and money from all other sources. That is to say: to pay the construction worker, consumers must buy some good or service, which generates the income for their wages; to buy that service, they must spend from their finite income pool; and, having spent that finite income on that good o

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      If this represents some kind of safety mongering to counter all the fear monger surrounding airplanes, and we could get rid of the TSA bullshit as a result, then I am 100% for this. It can't be more expensive than what we've spent on the TSA.
  • by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <plasticfish.infoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:16AM (#52455017) Homepage

    I fail to see how this will eliminate air fatalities. Don't the majority of crashes occur on takeoff or landing?

    One example that springs to mind is the Tenerife disaster of 1977, in which two airliners collided on the ground as one of them was taking off. Capsules with parachutes would not have helped a bit AFAICT.

    Thanks to /. for posting this story while I'm 10 thousand metres or so above the Skagerrak and making me feel a bit special.

    • by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:34AM (#52455209)

      One example that springs to mind is the Tenerife disaster of 1977, in which two airliners collided on the ground as one of them was taking off.

      That problem is solved by the pod system as well.

      Your plane isn't lifting fast enough, eject the luggage pod. Still not fast enough, now eject the economy class pod. Now granted the luggage and economy class pods have smashed into the ground and hundreds of passengers have died, but at least the pod carrier airplane is still intact and the first class passengers are still safe in their own first class pod which is still attached to the plane.

      • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @08:40AM (#52455453)

        I for one, love that they put the "eject economy class" button right next to the button for coffee.

    • by Max_W ( 812974 )

      ...Don't the majority of crashes occur on takeoff or landing?...

      In such cases as Air France and Eyptair it happened during flight at high altitude. When aircraft stalls it just falls from the sky.

      A Passenger Pod could be made even lighter by removing inbuilt displays. Almost anyone has got a display on a smartphone or on a tablet. Passengers could download free inflight movies via WiFi on board. Instead of hundreds of heavy displays it would be just one light WiFi router on board.

      Parachutes' fabric could be used as a thermal insulation of the Pod, i.e. a passenge

      • ...Don't the majority of crashes occur on takeoff or landing?...

        In such cases as Air France and Eyptair it happened during flight at high altitude. When aircraft stalls it just falls from the sky. A Passenger Pod could be made even lighter by removing inbuilt displays. Almost anyone has got a display on a smartphone or on a tablet. Passengers could download free inflight movies via WiFi on board. Instead of hundreds of heavy displays it would be just one light WiFi router on board. Parachutes' fabric could be used as a thermal insulation of the Pod, i.e. a passenger cabin. Without a parachute the free fall speed of such an object is about 150 - 180 km/h due to the air resistance. So medium size parachutes could handle it. There are people who survived a free fall in a passenger seat without serious injuries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] . So we need just to slow down this fall. A stall of an aircraft, which happens regularly for difference reasons, shall not be the reason of unavoidable deaths. Air travel is not that safe. Air travel safety statistics could be calculated and presented in a different way. It could be calculated by a distance traveled, by number of vehicles, etc. In my opinion aircraft design should be also kind of an Open Source Project, so that different ideas and insights could be tested and used.

        EgyptAir's probable cause hasn't been determined but appears to have been from a fire. Which brings up one problem woth pods; if the cause of the failire is in the passenger compartment a pod will be of no use since the problem will still cause the pod to structurally fail. As for stalls, that example was a crew training failure. So when does the crew decide to eject? A pod won't be a 0-0 ejection seat so at some point all you are doing is storing the bodies further from the main crash site. Finally given

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        "When aircraft stalls it just falls from the sky. "

        No it doesn't. Any competently designed plane will pitch down when it stalls, pick up speed, and not be stalled anymore. The Air France flight wasn't flying along at altitude, stalled, then plunged into the ocean. Due to instrument failure and pilot error it took a long slow path down; long and slow enough that neither pilot realized what was happening until it was too late.

      • It is not just that, but also the problem with hypoxia. Inflight the engine compressors provide the cabin pressure. In a detached pod only the oxygen generators would help, and they don't last long, about 12 minutes or so (the emergency descend speed of a modern airplane starts at 100 km/h and is only limited by structural loads).
        Larger oxygen generators would probably make flying more dangerous.

    • by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @09:09AM (#52455571)

      Don't the majority of crashes occur on takeoff or landing?

      One could argue that all crashes technically occur on landing. ;)

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        Don't the majority of crashes occur on takeoff or landing?

        One could argue that all crashes technically occur on landing. ;)

        The majority of them, yes. But there are mid air crashes. Ex: New York City United Airlines vs Trans World Airlines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
        But yeah, it's generally not the fall that kills you.

    • If you define "landing" as "when you touch the ground", then yes, the vast majority of casualties happen at landing. Yes, I am fun at parties, why do you ask?
  • Wrong focus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyf ( 1129635 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:19AM (#52455025)
    I don't get it.
    Airtravel is one of the safest way to travel. I know the fear of flying is common, but actual dying is not.

    If you want to rebuild an entire transport-infrastructure because of accidents involving people dying, then I suggest you start with cars and roads.
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      Doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't make it even more safe.

      • Re:Wrong focus (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyf ( 1129635 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:56AM (#52455105)
        No, that is not what I meant.
        560 people died in airplane accidents last year.
        The proposed solutions is to rebuild the entire airtravel infrastructure in order to reduce that number.

        I'm suggesting that if you are going to use that much money to reduce fatalities, then it would be much better spent on roads and cars. Where many more people die each year (est. 1.25 million in 2010).
        • by Max_W ( 812974 )

          ... I'm suggesting that if you are going to use that much money to reduce fatalities, then it would be much better spent on roads and cars. Where many more people die each year (est. 1.25 million in 2010).

          It is not a fair comparison. Cars are driven mostly by run-of-the-mill operators. There are drunkards, drug adicts, sick persons, sleep deprived individuals, etc. among drivers of cars and among amateur mechanics.

          Passenger aircraft are piloted by licensed pilots and serviced by qualified mechanics.

          • It is not a fair comparison. Cars are driven mostly by run-of-the-mill operators. There are drunkards, drug adicts, sick persons, sleep deprived individuals, etc. among drivers of cars and among amateur mechanics.

            Sure, part of the reason why cars are more dangerous than airplanes has to do with the fact that most cars are driven by non-professionals. So what? Just because you've found one of the reasons doesn't make it immaterial.

          • It is not a fair comparison.

            Why not? It's a form of transport. The operators and mechanics are something that can be addressed with investment in infrastructure. I dare say 560 lives - statistical noise, really - could be saved with trivial amounts of money being spent compared to air infrastructure to save the same number.

        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          Here is what I propose. They give me the money intended to rebuild the airtravel industry and I don't kill 561 people. That way they have reduced the number of people killed by more than 100%.

          If they give me more, I won't kill even more people.

      • Re: Wrong focus (Score:5, Insightful)

        by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:03AM (#52455131)

        No, actually, it kind of does mean that. We don't have unlimited resources. Every field out there chooses to solve the easy and/or big problem. No one chooses to solve the insignificant one. Especially not the insignificant hard one.

        • by fuzzyf ( 1129635 )
          No it doesn't mean that they should stop making airtravel safer.
          Airtravel is safe today because they always improve safety (not the security theatre, but actual flight safety)
          Every accident is investigated and active countermessures are imposed if they can help prevent the same type of error to happen again.

          Rebuilding the entire airtravel infrastructure on the other hand, that is just stupid.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        You shouldn't if $10M is required per life saved, when other things could save lives at a cost of $1M per life saved. You'd be 10x better off to *not* improve safety, and instead put the same money elsewhere.
      • It does when that "even more safe" is associated with 100's of billions of cost in infrastructure and development for what is a fraction of a fraction of a percent in likely survival improvements.
  • Thank god (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Someone's finally found a multibillion dollar solution to our nonexistent problem. Could you imagine the death toll if we don't drive down the 1 in a million accident rate? It could reach the thousands if we lump several years together!

  • by Catmeat ( 20653 ) <mtm&sys,uea,ac,uk> on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:22AM (#52455033)

    See; the XC120 Packplane - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org]. Though the fact it didn't work in 1950, doesn't mean it can't work now. I keep an open mind.

    However, the idea of sticking the pod on a railway waggon is a complete non-starter - I'm sure a pod that meets railway crash-resistance standards would be stupidly heavy for aviation use.

  • by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:26AM (#52455039) Journal

    Off the top of my head:

    1. "Every year we hear about people dying in plane crashes. This does not have to continue..." But air travel is already the safest mode of travel. Hear all those people screaming for new technology to make road travel safe? No? Well, they're the same ones that will take this up.

    2. "Passengers might board a capsule at a local bus station and wake up in another city on the other side of the country, or planet, after a road, air and rail journey during which they didn't leave their seat." They don't seem to realise the blindingly obvious point that this is making air travel *worse*. Air travel already involves sitting in a seat for too long. Why would I opt for a mode of travel that exchanges a few minutes of having to be polite to people in the aisles for one that involves several hours more in the same damn seat?

    3. If you want to see just how off-their-faces unrealistic this is, look no further than this sentence: "Clip-Air's researchers, who are also looking into the possibility of using biofuels or liquid hydrogen as alternative fuels, have already initiated some contacts with the aerospace industry." Oh, great! You're launching publicity for a total redesign of the entire global air freight and passenger industry and you've *already* initiated some contacts with the aerospace industry??? Really??? What made you do that so soon??? And looking into hydrogen as a fuel source for this is basically admitting, "It's so far off the page that we might as well throw in any futuristic-sounding crap we can." If you're doing this seriously, get one thing right at a time. Don't complicate it by also trying to introduce a fuel that no-one else has managed to make work yet.

    People who consider themselves "aviation visionaries" (yes, an actual term used in the article) always, always get excited about this kind of thing for no good reason. They *think* people want revolutionary concepts that change how they board planes and let them work out then drink themselves silly in a trendy bar while they're in flight. What people *actually* want are revolutionary new concepts that cut the cost of air travel.

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      The only revolution people want is to not have to deal with time-consuming and mentally and physically degrading security checks.

    • The cost isn't so bad, it's the length I'd like to cut.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Spot on with point #2. The idea of having people board a pod before the flight comes up every so often, but all it does is move the hassle of finding space in the overhead bins and finding your seat while others try to squeeze by, from the airplane to the lobby. And you're not just spending more time in your crappy economy seat instead of the roomier lobby where you can stretch your legs. Moving the pod into the airplane takes time as well, and that time is added to the boarding procedure: you will have
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      2. "Passengers might board a capsule at a local bus station and wake up in another city on the other side of the country, or planet, after a road, air and rail journey during which they didn't leave their seat."

      They are also completely ignoring why airports are called "hubs" in the first place. People travel to the airport from all different directions, it's almost always a fairly long commute by car, bus, or train. Fifty people aren't standing around in the middle of a city all waiting to take the same flight to the same destination.

    • Cost! I need it cheaper! I've got family all over the place. Torture me with your little seats, your long lines, the security theater, but make it cheaper. At least bring back the prices we enjoyed before 2006 when oil was cheap. WAIT! Oil has not been this cheap since 2002!
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      What people *actually* want are revolutionary new concepts that cut the cost of air travel.

      and time. Do not forget time.
      And travel is only part of the time. When I look at travel, I look not only at the time in the car, train or plane, but I look door to door. I look at when I leave my house to when I get where I want to be and that is not JFK or LAX or BRU. That is my home or my work or my hotel.

      Soon I am traveling inside Europe and eqch time I go somezhere I look at those times. Sometimes trains win, som

  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joh ( 27088 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:38AM (#52455055)

    "A passenger pod is not heavy because it does not contain fuel, engines, avionics, etc., so in case of an accident it can be ejected and land on parachutes."

    It contains the passengers (the payload) and is one of the major structural components of the plane, so it is heavy anyway. And if it has to be structurally sound enough to be ejected and land it will be even heavier. Big parachutes for heavy loads are not easy or lightweight too.

    Besides, air travel is very safe already and this wouldn't change anything about crashes during take-off and landings.

    I mean, yes, do designs and try to sell them. I doubt someone will buy this though.

  • This is an intersting idea, and it would be fun to see it developed further, but this line really stuck out.

    "Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?"

    Bullshit. I'm not saying some improvement in air crash survivability isn't a good thing, but the idea that people are regularly dying because their aeroplane can't disassemble in midair and parachute them to the ground it frankly offensive to all the engineers who have worked over the years to make large scale commercial flying unbelievably safe.

    Total number of air craft fatalities worldwide in commercial flight has been significantly less than 1000 per year for the last couple of decades. Something like 3.6 billion passenger journeys will be completed in 2016 (IATA estimate).

    Safety is the single worst reason to throw away a tried and tested basic design that is fantastically safe and replace it with a much more complicated and new system.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:54AM (#52455099) Journal
    The container based intermodal transport did take over, ship borne, rail borne and truck borne cargo sectors. It did not make much headway into air cargo business. Technically the containers could be made with windows and a/c and be made comfortable enough for passenger travel. Again it did not happen. Why?

    In an airplane the fuselage is not some simple shell for aesthetics or aerodynamics. It is a structural component, bearing weight. The skin, barely a mm thick carries load. The containers on the other hand are designed to carry load themselves. They are all rated to be stacked, each container can bear the load of some dozen containers stacked on top of it. That is why these containers are so strong, made with steel. Such strong containers are heavy. Too heavy to be used in air cargo economically.

    We could design containers, with lower strength specs to lower the weight. This could help in unloading and reloading of cargo planes. Turn around time is very important. Such containers exist, but they are not as ubiquitous as intermodal containers and they have not taken over the industry sector the way they have taken over ship/rail/truck borne cargo.

    As for passenger carrying cargo, it is so cheap to ask passengers to disembark and reboard, the cost and weight of carrying them makes it uneconomical.

    The value of avoiding disembarkation is well known. In Europe, some passenger trains move from one gauge in the west to another gauge in the east changing the wheel gauge on the move. As the railcar moves along, a special section of the track, lifts the car off the truck, unlocks the wheel, slides the wheel along the axle to reduce/increase the gauge, relock the wheel, lower the railcar on to the trucks. (trucks = bogies for the brits). At 15 mph. Even locomotives change their gauge on the move! So the value of avoiding disembarkation is known, but still these pod ideas have not taken hold.

    It is a nice interesting student project. Earlier graphics was expensive and we used to depend on Popular Mechanics for such crazy ideas in nice looking pictures. Now with blender and maya and photoshop anyone can create them. That is all.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      It did not make much headway into air cargo business.

      In a way it actually did. Up until early last year I worked for a few years in the cargo division for a major airline. We routinely loaded ULDs (PMCs, LD-2/3s, LD-8s) onto trucks for transport. This was commonly done only for local delivery or for refrigerated containers, but some companies had their own loaded and sealed containers that would have to be picked up and sometimes we would send full containers to other cities by truck, particularly cities that aren't serviced by widebody aircraft. In fact r

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @06:56AM (#52455103)

    The obstacle to this new invention is that the whole obsolete airport and airline infrastructure must be rebuilt. So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?

    Yes please. Our lives aren't worth that much. Please spend the money on road safety instead rather than bankrupting an industry that is already described as the safest form of travel.

    • > already described as the safest form of travel

      I think that's elevators.

      • Indeed. You never hear of elevator deaths - even on transcontinental routes. I can't even tell you how many perfectly safe elevator rides I've taken from DC to NY over the years.

      • by Shimbo ( 100005 )

        I think that's elevators.

        If you work it out per mile travelled, I think aircraft beat elevators easily. Elevators appear to be about 100-1000 times as safe per trip, on a casual search. That's surely not nearly enough to win when normalized.

  • by greatpatton ( 1242300 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:00AM (#52455123)
    Editor mixed up 2 schools. This project is from EPFL (in Lausanne) as you can see from the project link and not the ETHZ (in Zurich) as stated.
  • by fraxinus-tree ( 717851 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:06AM (#52455137)
    Every 1-2 years (or after a major air crash) someone, somewhere suggests this idea. Which amounts to:
    1. Aircraft to become more complex (e.g. heavy, expensive, failure-prone, carrying less passengers per unit of fuel)
    2. The idea works only when aircraft is at high enough altitude for the 'chutes to work reasonably. So no profit in takeoff and landing (when most of crashes happen)
    3. The idea works only when aircraft is slow enough for the "bus" and it's precious contents to survive aerodynamic hit and turbulence without having shape and controls of an airplane, rocket or something similar. So no profit at marching speed, either.
    And yes, 2 and 3 pretty much cover the whole flight.
    4. Bombs inside and missiles outside still invariably fatal.

    Sorry. Back to fighting terrorism, training pilots and engineering better avionics.
  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:13AM (#52455159) Homepage

    This plane concept has nothing to do about safety. Fatal crashes are few and fatal crashes where a detaching pod with parachutes would save you are quite rare even among fatal crashes. Bombs, mountain crashes, landing/lift-off crashes etc are unaffected. Which is why it is not the raison d'être of this design. The second part of the summary is the relevant one, it would allow you to change the configuration of the plane by attaching different cargo/passenger/etc pods and even allow pods from different companies on the same plane. But, yeah, it is a far-fetch concept since to take advantage of what feels to me not "revolutionary" benefit, it would require huge infrastructure changes. Nice university project though.

    • The fuel penalty for a project like this would be in the double-digit percent range - possibly high double digits. That's a non-starter for pretty much every class of air travel that exists.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_RC-1

  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @07:16AM (#52455173) Journal

    I've heard something similar proposed several times, for example Airbus Patent Shows Modular, Removable Aircraft Cabins [slashdot.org], and the same issues are discussed every time.

    The primary driving factor in the design of passenger aircraft in recent decades has been getting the cost per passenger down, so a solution against which can be said "the whole obsolete airport and airline infrastructure must be rebuilt" has pretty much zero chance of happening, since that would be somewhat expensive.

    As far as the safety aspect, the idea of having a detachable passenger compartment that can separately parachute-land in the event of a disaster is also not new [independent.co.uk], and the obvious issues mentioned in that article seem to apply here also. Big increase in cost to achieve a questionable and at best marginal overall safety improvement in what is already the safest for of transport is just dumb.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see people working on this kind of thing, and I don't want to be that guy that dismisses every futuristic conceptbecause of a few practical obstacles, but I do wish tech journalists would present such things in a more realistic way. Lines like "... and his team are preparing to build a small-scale Clip-Air prototype. They have already initiated some contacts with the aerospace industry" tries to make it sound like this is something on the path to possibly being implemented, whereas the reality is "contacts with the aerospace industry" might not mean much at all.

  • So the new pod design eliminates mid-air casualties. But it crushes bystanders on the ground when it lands after being ejected.

  • Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?

    At a rate of about 700 deaths for about 3 billion passengers (both yearly averages). That's less than 0.3 ppm.

    What industry would completely redesign itself and increase its costs by even 1% (this would probably be more like 20% plus the fix cost of the changes) to reduce its failure rate to below the current 0.3ppm (and then again, not necessarily to zero, as the last few year's crashed are not related to th

  • by MS Paint.
  • "...The obstacle to this new invention is that the whole obsolete airport and airline infrastructure must be rebuilt. So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?"

    No, we shall continue to get killed because I fail to see how this amazing new design is going to "create jobs", or should I say create enough jobs to justify those it will offset. Therefore, it will remain for the same reason we still use coal and fossil fuels regardless of the environmental cost or financial cost and dependence on foreign sources; greed and corruption as the largest standing lobbyist army in the world convinces lawmakers that the status quo is the way to go.

    TSA was birthed out of 9/11.

  • It might well be a good idea to have a detachable passenger pod, but this statement is a load of malarkey:

    The obstacle to this new invention is that the whole obsolete airport and airline infrastructure must be rebuilt. So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?

    So far, we have the aircraft we've got because they're better. We've stuck with the same designs for a long time because they work. That doesn't mean they can't be improved still furthe

  • by bluegutang ( 2814641 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @08:22AM (#52455401)

    if it took off and landed from solar runways.

    You know, combine the most promising technologies available.

  • Seriously, the fact that this is being passed around major media shows how completely stupid most journalists really are...

    Or they don't care and figure their idiots views don't know any better and just want to be entertained...

    This has zero chance of happening, for so many reasons...

    More than 3 billion people will board airplanes this year, fewer than 1,000 will die. This is SO not a problem that needs a wholesale change...

    Fix the million deaths on the road first, that is a much bigger problem... Fix the

  • So what? Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?

    I have noticed more and more these days, people coming up with some absurd premise that sounds reasonable to some. Parachutes on airplanes? Why not? Turns out, a lot of reasons why not. Air France 447 wouldn't have helped any, and neither would Malaysian Airlines MH370. The problem is where the person gets angry with how stodgy and conservative the rest of us are, and wants to change things RIG

  • Larger cross-section = greater drag, lower fuel economy, slower top speed?
  • .. but we also need to make the planes wider and squatter. And paint them green. And put them on stilts so that the pods can descend below the planes for unloading. And add rockets to the planes.

    Thunderbirds are go!

  • You just survived a plane crash! You are now located in a pod floating (hopefully) in the middle of an ocean...

  • This must be a new low for /. submissions, when not even the submitter Reads The Fine Article...

    The CNN article [cnn.com] nowhere mentions airplane deaths or parachute drops of pods.

    What it does mention (in so many words) is that they want to do for air passengers and freight, what Intermodal shipping containers [wikipedia.org] have done for surface freight (sea, rail, trucking) - and yes, with the possibility to extend air networks to other modes of transport e.g. road or rail, like what has happened for shipping containers. Read

  • Look at the article. No really, look at it. You don't have to read the text, just glance at the pictures for a few seconds. I'll wait ... done? Great.

    In an era where 2-3% improvement in efficiency is considered a breakthrough, creating a design that has permanently extended landing struts and non-integrated passenger / cargo compartments, would seem to be a show-stopping problem for low-drag aerodynamic design.

    That and, who would want to ride in a cabin where most of the windows are blocked by the landing s

    • Not only will the aerodynamics suck, but by making large parts of the plane removable, there will be a significant increase in weight. And then there's the fact that adding complexity can add points of failure.

  • This is just making a really big fighter jet, and turning the wing-mounted bomb bays into passenger cabins.
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday July 06, 2016 @11:00AM (#52456201)

    Shall we continue to get killed because it is easier to produce aircraft with a design from 1950s?

    Man, how often HAVE you been killed in airplane crashes, anyway?

    Such deaths are very rare, considering. If we put even a fraction of the level of effort discussed into, say, removing just 10% of the in-hospital deaths caused by medical mistakes, that would save thousands and thousands more lives every year. Not that the two areas are mutually exclusive - it's just that death in airliner crashes remain vanishingly rare. And considering how many of those are the result of crazy/religious wackadoos deliberately killing those onboard, it's not clear how making the passengers ride in pods would actually solve that part of the problem anyway.

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