Airbus has always been an innovative, modern, out-of-the-box thinking company. In its report “The Future by Airbus,” Airbus details on how the industry, aircraft and passengers will change by 2050 – while highlighting potential steps to meet the needs of tomorrow. Based on latest research in advanced materials and extensive research into how the way the world’s population is changing from a demand point of view, Airbus illustrates what the future of flight will look like.
I’d like you to ignore the “concept” word and focus solely on the materials and the package of technologies that Airbus is planning on using. Technologies needed in order to face future needs, including a cut in emissions, less noise and greater comfort.
Future aircraft could be built using a bionic structure that mimics the bone structure of birds. Bone is both light and strong because its porous interior carries tension only where necessary, leaving space elsewhere. By using bionic structures, the fuselage has the strength it needs, but can also make the most of extra space where required. This not only reduces the aircraft’s weight and fuel burn, but also makes it possible to add features like oversized doors for easier boarding and panoramic windows.
The cabin’s bionic structure will be coated with a biopolymer membrane, which controls the amount of natural light, humidity and temperature, providing opacity or transparency on command and eliminating the need for windows. This smarter structure will make the aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient while giving passengers 360 degree views of the skies. This will offer unparalleled, unobstructed views of the wonders of the five continents – where you will be able see the pyramids or the Eiffel Tower through the transparent walls of the aircraft.
Future materials may not even be the materials we see and use today. ‘Composite’ materials will be used – new matter made of a combination of different materials. In the future materials may not even take a solid state, but could be a composition of fluid and gas for example!
Integrated Neural Network
The cabin electrical system can be compared to the human brain, with a network of intelligence pulsating through the cabin. This network will be absorbed into the structural materials, making the hundreds of kilometres of cables and wires found in today’s aircraft a thing of the past. Known as ‘Smart’ materials they can perform numerous functions, recognising the passenger, so that you too are ‘connected’ to the plane.
Materials that change shape and return to their initial form, growing like the leaves of a plant, are a very real possibility. Morphing materials might be metals or polymers that have a ‘memory’; or are covered with a ‘skin’ that will instigate a shape change. A memory is created using sensor and activator systems that give materials a certain level of artificial intelligence, allowing them to adapt to the passengers’ needs.
Materials will be self-cleaning. Think of the leaves of a lotus plant, which water rolls off in beads, taking contaminants with it. Today, coatings inspired by this are used on the surfaces of cabin bathrooms. In the future they will be found on the fabric of seats and the carpets.
These intelligent materials like morphing materials could also self-repair themselves. This technology is already used today in surface protection. Certain paints can seal a scratch by themselves, just as the human skin does.
The future passenger cabin will be fully ecological. Fully recyclable plant fibres that can be grown to a custom shape will be sourced from responsible and sustainable practices.
3D Printed Layers
Some of the elements in the cabin could be created using additive layer manufacturing, which is a bit like printing in 3D. The process repeatedly prints very thin layers of material on top of each other until the layers form a solid object in materials ranging from high-grade titanium alloys to glass and concrete. As well as making it simpler to produce very complex shapes, this form of production wastes a lot less material than cutting shapes out of bigger blocks. While this technique is already being tested for small aircraft parts today, in the future, its use could be widespread – not only in industry but in people’s homes!
Scenes showing the destination, a city skyline or a tropical forest, will be projected onto the walls. A private cabin can reflect your bedroom at home, a business conference or even a zen garden, thanks to the projection of virtual decors. Holographic technology will have advanced to such a degree that the virtual world will be indistinguishable from the real.
Smart energy solutions such as energy harvesting will be a part of the cabin environment. The body heat you give out will be collected by your seat or pod as you relax or sleep and combined with energy collected from other sources, like solar panels, to fuel cabin appliances.
The future with Airbus looks great. Nature-inspired concept cabin with intelligent wall which controls air temperature and can become transparent to give passengers spectacular panoramic views, vitalising zone that will help passengers relax, with vitamin and antioxidant-enriched air, mood lighting, aromatherapy and acupressure treatments, holographic pop-up gaming displays. Passengers will be able to play a game of virtual golf, take part in an interactive conference or shop in a virtual changing room.