More than a million people over the age of 65 will need round-the-clock care during the next 20 year..
(CNN) — From blended wing airliners powered by nuclear fusion to a new generation of spacecraft designed to carry tourists to the moon, it's hard not to be mesmerized by Oscar Viñals' boldly ambitious aircraft designs.
The Barcelona-based designer's futuristic concepts resemble something from a science fiction film. But the designer isn't affiliated with NASA or any other aerospace research organization.
He doesn't even hold a degree in aerospace engineering. However, his daring visions of the future have captured the imaginations of flying enthusiasts the world over.
"Technology often comes in radical waves of disruption, rather than through progressive change," he tells CNN Travel.
None of Viñals' concepts are likely to become a reality anytime soon.
For them to come to fruition, the technologies that would make them possible would need to move beyond the purely conceptual stage.
Yet he remains adamant about the feasibility of his designs — from a theoretical point of view at least.
"I don't intend my designs to be just beautiful or eye-catching," says the designer, who's spent most of his professional career as a freelance graphic designer for competitive motor racing teams.
"Every one of them is backed by in-depth research and the expectation that one day they can serve as the basis of a real project.
"Clean aircraft, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, portable nuclear fusion, active flux control systems.
"Many of these things are now in laboratories, at concept stage, and I think much of this will eventually become a reality."
Viñals' ambitious, speculative designs seem well suited to the times, when nascent, disruptive technologies are starting to redefine what we can expect from the aviation industry in decades to come.
His lack of formal aerospace engineering background hasn't proved to be an obstacle either, as he's immersed himself in an intensive self-study program.
Viñals has also invested considerable sums of money in state-of-the-art tools, such as professional-grade aircraft design software.
The Magnavem concept aircraft is powered by a compact fusion reactor.
Courtesy Oscar Viñals
The result is an eclectic mix that fits Viñals' vision of a future where different technologies evolve in parallel, each covering a specific market niche.
"For shorter journeys we will use electric and hybrid aircraft of different sizes, while for longer distances we may have hypersonic aircraft that go suborbital — an option for the most affluent or adventurous passengers — or supersonic aircraft able to carry a few hundred people," he tells CNN Travel.
"The latter could be powered by new propulsion technologies such as compact fusion reactors or ramjet systems.
"Finally, giant aircraft with up to three floors powered by hybrid engines could be like the ocean liners of yesteryear, carrying hundreds of passengers at any one time."
A common thread throughout Viñals' portfolio, besides the dazzling nature of the designs, is a focus on environmentally-friendly technologies.
Take the AWWA Sky Whale, an aircraft design with self-repairing wings that can carry 755 passengers, for example — or the AWWA-QG Progress Eagle, a triple-decker aircraft with zero carbon emissions.
Take a first look at the AWWA-QG Progress Eagle, a concept aircraft that would generate its own electricity and be 75% quieter than current airliners.
He's enthusiastic about the prospects for nuclear fusion as a zero-emissions source of energy with virtually limitless possibilities.
"Yes, it's still years away, but far from being in the realm of fantasy, even big names in the industry are investing in this," he says.
"Lockheed Martin, for example, has been working on a portable nuclear fusion reactor for quite a few years."
In fact, Viñals' aircraft are not only emissions-free, but would also make a positive contribution towards keeping our skies clean.
Some of his concepts would be fitted with a device to capture and withdraw carbon from the atmosphere and he's even envisioned a laser-fitted aircraft that would be able to pulverize all sorts of man-made debris from space (MKS-1B LSJC Space Debris Cleaner).
Of course, only time will tell how much of this will one day become a reality.
Viñals has been approached by firms and investors active in the field of aerospace innovation with a view to tapping into his creativity and insights and opening up a way for him to make aircraft design a full-time occupation.
But in the meantime, it's clear that he intends to continue envisioning a perhaps not-so-distant future.
Miquel Ros is an aviation blogger and consultant. An economist by background, he's worked for Flightglobal and Bloomberg. He currently covers the airline industry through Allplane.tv.
The fairly peaceful demonstration was a stark contrast to scenes Sunday and Monday when far-right demonstrators clashed with counterprotesters over the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German man in a brawl.Two men — an Iraqi and a Syrian — have been arrested in connection with the stabbing. Chemnitz Mayor Barbara Ludwig was booed as she addressed about 600 people inside Chemnitz stadium alongside Saxony's state premier, Michael Kretschmer.Ludwig said "it was difficult" for authorities to decide what to do about the violence, prompting one local resident to shout: "Well, this is your job!"The mayor went on to say that "one could have mourned in silence after the fatal stabbing," but not by marching violently through the city. As Kretschmer asked residents for a minute of silence, chanting from far-right protesters could be heard outside the stadium. Protesters at the rally organized by local right-wing extremist group Pro Chemnitz chanted "lying press," a sign of the sentiment regarding the media coverage of the stabbing. Police said about 500 people had registered for the demonstration.Additional officers have been drafted in from Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia as well as from the federal police after criticism that authorities allowed the previous protests to get out of hand.Police in the northern city of Wismar said three German men attacked a 20-year-old Syrian man Wednesday night as he made his way home alone. He was subjected to xenophobic insults, punched, kicked and hit with a chain, suffering a broken nose and bruising to the face and upper body, a police statement said. Police are investigating the attack as a hate crime.Separately, police said, unknown offenders defaced the windows of the office of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, in Wismar's old town with stickers and paint. Officers are investigating.The rallies earlier this week were the latest examples of division in Germany triggered by the country's intake of refugees and migrants.The demonstrations were condemned by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said "hate in the streets" had no place in Germany. She also condemned the fatal stabbing, saying it was "a horrible incident."
Arrest warrant investigation
A court official in Dresden admitted leaking the arrest warrant for the two suspects in the German man's fatal stabbing that sparked the anti-immigrant protests, the state Ministry of Justice said Thursday.The document was shared thousands of times on social media. The publication of an arrest warrant is punishable under German law."We cannot tolerate this in any way when an employee acts like this, and there will be consequences," Saxony's minister of justice, Sebastian Gemkow, said in a statement.The court official has been suspended with immediate effect, the Saxony Ministry of Justice said. He has not been named.Earlier Thursday, a local politician was placed under police investigation for sharing the document online. Jan Timke is a member of the Bremen parliament in the country's north and the right-wing association Citizens in Anger. He's also a former police officer and current member of the German Police Union."Jan Timke could face a fine or imprisonment for up to a year" if he is found to have done this, Bremen prosecutor Frank Passade said.Timke admitted to sharing the warrant on social media but told journalists in Bremen he was not the source of the leak, CNN affiliate NTV reported. He said he was not aware at the time that doing so was illegal."Of course I take responsibility for the publication," Timke said, before adding that he viewed the police search of his home as unlawful. CNN has reached out to Timke for comment.Pro Chemnitz also posted the arrest warrant on social media, inflaming an already tense situation. Facebook took the document down, but not before thousands of people shared it. In the warrant, it appeared at least one of the suspects already had a criminal record. Its apparent leak has prompted speculation that there may be links between members of the police or prosecutor's office and far-right elements.The document fueled local anger that it took so long for the authorities to reveal the suspects in the fatal stabbing were asylum-seekers and prompted suspicions of a cover-up.Pro Chemnitz has protested against Facebook's removal of the document and said Thursday's demonstration was even more important than the earlier one after the social media platform's action.The group's Facebook post promoting Thursday's rally said: "Criminal foreigners cannot be tolerated, they need to be immediately deported and together we will explain this on Thursday to the state premier."The AfD and the right-wing, anti-Islam Pegida group, which was founded in Saxony, have called for further protests Saturday.
Concern over possible sympathy for far-right causes within the police and armed forces may have increased with two recent cases.A police officer in the southwest German city of Trier was fired this week after being exposed for identifying with the Reichsbuerger movement, an extreme right-wing group.A statement from the administrative court in Trier said the officer "was guilty of serious misconduct" and no longer recognized the country's constitutional system or laws, making him a potential threat to public safety.Separately, Saxony police said Thursday that a police employee had left the service after revelations he attended a Pegida rally on August 16 while off duty and called the police on a TV crew covering the event, labeling them as "lying press."Ten people are being investigated over Nazi salutes, an illegal gesture in the country, during Monday's protest in Chemnitz. Social media video from the protests showed scuffles and far-right demonstrators chanting, "German, social and national. Free, social and national," phrases heavily associated with the neo-Nazi movement.There were around 1,500 counterprotesters Monday night, vastly outnumbered by the 6,000 far-right demonstrators, many of whom had traveled from other states to Chemnitz, Saxony state police said.The AfD, which campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform, won more than 25% of the vote in the state of Saxony in last September's federal election, almost double the national average.
CNN's Nadine Schmidt reported from Chemnitz, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Atika Shubert, Judith Vonberg and Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.
(CNN) — Spurred by concerns about climate change, governments and companies worldwide are making plans for a post-oil era.
But, while there have been efforts to limit carbon emissions in the aviation industry by using biofuels, no solution is in sight to replace kerosene-burning commercial aircraft.
And yet, as with the car industry, electrical propulsion looks to be the way forward for air travel. So why have things been going so slowly airside? Mainly, it seems, because innovators face a very large hurdle.
Batteries vs jet fuel
"Electric batteries pack much less energy per unit of weight than jet fuel," says Bjorn Fehrm, an independent industry aviation expert at Leeham News. About 40 times less, even if we consider the best batteries available.
"Electric motors partly compensate this disadvantage by being more efficient in converting energy into power, but a huge gap remains."
The result is that aircraft would need to carry very heavy batteries in order to even approach the performance of current airliners. This option, quite literally, wouldn't fly.
Difficult doesn't mean impossible, though.
Major industry players, research organizations and entrepreneurs are working on several possible paths to make commercial electric flying a reality within a few years. Here are some of the most promising initiatives in the field:
Airbus: Disrupt or be disrupted
Airbus has already had success with its E-Fan light aircraft.
In Europe, Toulouse-headquartered aircraft manufacturer Airbus has teamed up with German conglomerate Siemens to pursue its electrical aircraft research program.
Its E-Fan light aircraft managed to complete a crossing of the English Channel in 2015 by using only electric propulsion.
Since then, Airbus has ramped up its efforts and come up with some potentially disruptive concepts.
"We realized our earliest electrical aircraft projects were not ambitious enough," says Glenn Llewellyn, General Manager, Electrification at Airbus.
"We have since reoriented our development efforts and come up with some revolutionary concepts such as the Vahana and CityAirbus, that are close to becoming a tangible reality.
"They are going to have an impact in the way we understand urban mobility."
A product of A³, Airbus' Silicon Valley arm, Vahana is an unmanned electrical aircraft designed to move a passenger or small cargo within the confines of a city.
Its appearance is straight out of a science-fiction film. The passenger module nestles between two parallel wings, one above and one below, each holding four engines.
Its vertical take-off and landing capabilities make it possible to fly from building to building, which may turn into an alternative to land-based urban transportation. Vahana also incorporates technology that allows it to avoid obstacles and navigate the complexities of the urban environment.
Another futuristic concept that Airbus is working on is CityAirbus, whose maiden flight is scheduled for 2018.
Just like Vahana, it's self-piloted and will be able to take off and land vertically, making it ideally suited for urban use. The difference is that CityAirbus will be able to carry up to four passengers.
"In addition to zero emissions and low noise levels, we are confident their operating costs will make them competitive with traditional taxis," says Llewellyn.
In parallel to these projects, Airbus continues to work towards its longer-term aim of developing a fully electric airliner. The next major goal will be to develop an aircraft that crosses the megawatt threshold.
Airbus has plans underway for a 2MW (two-megawatt) aircraft. It's still a long way off what would be needed to power an alternative to present-day airliners, but already more than 60 times more powerful than the E-Fan's 30 kilowatts.
Aviation behemoth Boeing has invested in Seattle-based startup Zunum Aero.
US multinational Boeing has invested, together with Silicon Valley's JetBlue Technology Ventures, in Seattle-based startup Zunum Aero.
Zunum's hybrid-electric aircraft promises something akin to door-to-door air travel, flying quietly and economically to thousands of underused local airfields and bypassing more inefficent and often congested larger airports.
The initial concept will be able to carry 12 passengers up to 700 miles, but it's been designed with scalability in mind. The idea is to develop a family of aircraft of increasingly larger size and longer range.
Although it starts as a hybrid, its design allows for a smooth transition to full electrical propulsion when new battery technology becomes available.
Eviation: A nine-passenger all-electric aircraft.
Courtesy Eviation Aircraft
Eviation Aircraft also focuses on the short-range regional market.
This Israeli startup has come up with a sleek nine-passenger, self-piloted, all-electric aircraft to operate primarily in the 100 to 600 mile range (although the aircraft will have a longer maximum range).
"This is a market where the overwhelming majority of the journeys are now made by car, as it is not efficient to fly commercial," says Omer Bar-Yohay, founder and CEO of Eviation. "We are here to change this."
"Almost no one is riding 40-year-old cars and yet most aircraft in our size category derive from designs that are at least four decades old," continues Bar-Yohay, who, prior to starting Eviation Aircraft, worked in the electrical vehicle industry.
By using small local airports, Eviation Aircraft is looking at the same market as Zunum Aero.
"The opportunity is so big […] that there is space for several operators, using different approaches," argues Bar-Yohay.
While Zunum "preferred to start with hybrid technology to get some extra range," Eviation Aircraft's optimistic belief is that "an all-electric aircraft is already able to serve our needs."
NASA X-57 Maxwell
NASA X-57 Maxwell: 14 electrical motors provide distributed propulsion.
NASA's X-57 Maxwell is an example of out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to electrical aircraft design.
This awkward-looking experimental plane uses the distributed propulsion provided by 14 electrical motors, all of them integrated into a specially designed high wing.
This unusual configuration, where the two larger motors at the wingtips reduce drag associated with wingtip vortices, is designed to bring about a 500% efficiency increase when cruising at higher speeds.
The X-57 is expected to fly in early 2018.
Pipistrel Alpha Electro
Pipistel Alpha Electro: Yours for $129,800.
It may lack the outlandish looks of other electric aircraft designs but, unlike them, the modest Slovenian-made two-seater Pipistrel Alpha Electro, whose first prototype was known as WATTsUP, has already reached production stage and is market-ready.
Powered by a 60-kilowatt electric engine developed by Siemens, the Alpha Electro can stay airborne for about an hour. Not a long time, admittedly, but more than enough for the training sorties it was designed for.
The Alpha Electro, which costs $129,800, and recharges its batteries the same way as a mobile phone, could significantly reduce the costs of initial pilot training, according to its manufacturer.
In addition to supplying some systems for NASA's X-57, Pipistrel is also working with Uber on the development of an electric vertical take-off (VTOL) vehicle for urban mobility.
Wright Electric hopes its all-electric airliner will serve short-haul routes.
From Wright Electric
In September 2017, US startup Wright Electric announced that it had partnered with European low-cost airline EasyJet in order to develop an all-electric airliner.
Wright Electric's truly ambitious project is to create an airliner in the 120-186 seat range capable of flying distances of up to 335 miles.
Although this isn't a particularly long range, it would be enough to cover many busy short-haul routes, such as London to Paris or New York to Boston.
The expectation is for range and capacity to be increased progressively as technology improves and that a whole family of aircraft will eventually be produced.
Small is beautiful
Independent experts in the field of electric propulsion remain cautious about the prospects for electric flight.
"I have crunched the numbers and I think we are still more than a decade away from having all-electric commercial airliners," says Bjorn Fehrm.
"The performance gap you need to bridge, particularly when it comes to the energy density of batteries, is huge."
However, he says smaller-scale projects like Vahana have a real chance of becoming the first commercially feasible electrical aircraft.
"You can scale gradually from there, but you have to start somewhere.
"The first aircraft may not be that competitive, but, as happened with cars, governments may use regulation to support electric aircraft, on the basis that they are quieter and less polluting."
Andreas Klöckner, coordinator for electric flight at DLR, the German Aerospace Center, agrees that the transition to electric flight is likely to be gradual.
"We already have electric aircraft for two to four passengers, like the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer or like the HY4 flying fuel cell testbed.
Next you go for up to 19 passengers, like the Zunum concept. You learn and you keep scaling up until you reach commercial airliner classes."
For longer-range and heavier aircraft, however, he predicts that "as long as batteries are too heavy" hybrid solutions will be required.
Klöckner adds another element to the discussion.
"Research in the field of electric flight has some interesting derivatives. For example, electric motors could be distributed along the wing, such as with NASA's X-57," he says.
"In addition to aerodynamic advantages, this could make heavy vertical tails redundant."
Vertical tails are currently needed to steer during flight, but this is a task that could be taken on by electric motors as they react very quickly to commanded speed changes.
Says Klöckner, "It opens up new ways to think about aircraft design."
"Unlike jet engines, the efficiency of electric motors doesn't benefit from size, so instead of two or more large engines under the wings you can have many smaller motors distributed along the fuselage," explains Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric.
This would lead not only to quieter, cleaner aircraft, but also ones that look radically different to those in the air today.