September 5, 2019
During World War II, few prizes were as precious as Cherbourg, a French deep-water port on the English Channel. Allied forces seized the port from the Nazis in 1944, gaining a direct route for shipping supplies — and giving Cherbourg a key role in supplying advancing troops. For a little while, it was the busiest port in the world. The badly damaged port’s rebirth was energized, literally, by a Navy destroyer parked in the harbor, whose two GE gas turbines allowed the ship to serve as a kind of floating power plant. Nowadays another kind of energy is flowing forth from the historic French port town: It’s home to LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy company, and the producer of the world’s longest wind turbine blades for the world’s most powerful offshore wind turbine, the Haliade-X.
The blades of Cherbourg: LM Wind Power has been making blades since 1978 — but the pieces coming out of Cherbourg these days are like nothing anybody’s seen. At 107 meters, they are longer than a soccer pitch and weigh more than 50 tons apiece. They’ll spin the generator of GE Renewable Energy’s massive 12-megawatt Haliade-X offshore wind turbine. Tapping the know-how built up by decades of experience, new hires to LM Wind Power are trained at an on-site “minifactory” where employees learn the theory of blade-building and practice constructing scaled-down models. “We look for different things; the ability to follow instructions and do precise work, and team spirit because it takes many people working together at the same time to make a blade,” says Erwan Le Floch, the plant director in Cherbourg. “Some of our new employees have only recently worked as fishmongers or bricklayers.”
The new blades are being built in a seaside town because they are too large to move over land: Just last month, the first massive blade set sail for England, where it’ll undergo rigorous testing before being installed in the field. Learn more here about the manufacturing process for a renewable behemoth.
Unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — have massive promise to perform jobs great and small: They could deliver human organs for transplant, or inspect pipelines and power lines, or transport packages to customers’ front doors. But before they can do any of these jobs, they need to be able to safely share the airspace with other drones and larger craft like airplanes. For almost two years, the Federal Aviation Administration and a series of industry partners — including AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation — have been conducting tests to figure out how to best manage the increased air traffic that’ll come when commercial drones take to the sky. A major milestone of that process has just passed: AiRXOS completed real-world test flights in the FAA’s first phase of designing the air traffic management system of the future.
Flies well with others: The AiRXOS team was selected to participate at three test sites, where they demonstrated Air Mobility — a cloud-based infrastructure and application platform for unmanned vehicle operation. Across testing sites, the FAA wanted to learn about how to safely keep aircraft apart from one another, how they can communicate between themselves, and how they’ll handle different weather situations. In North Dakota, program participants flew drones both within visual line of sight and beyond the line of sight — the latter being a crucial requirement for getting commercial drones approved. For AiRXOS, the news was good: Testing showed that its systems can operate with other commercial providers to coordinate and exchange data for safe flight operations.
According to one analysis, drones could be the basis of a $46 billion business segment by 2026 — if they get the OK for use in commercial situations. Learn more here about how AiRXOS is helping get this industry off the ground.
Skies dotted with drones might seem like a vision out of the future, but as detailed above, makers and operators of those vehicles face a problem familiar today to any driver — namely, traffic. That’s a challenge that will also dog unmanned vehicles whose four wheels never leave the ground. As more and more autonomous vehicles hit the road, experts are starting to think about their effects on traffic and on another persistent fact of life: parking. In a new article in The Conversation, two civil and environmental engineers say that widespread use of autonomous vehicles may free up expensive parking spots, as AVs could seek parking farther than where human drivers like to leave their cars. This could spell the end of downtown parking — an outcome that city planners should prepare for.
Join the AV club: Relieving us of the need to circle endlessly around congested city blocks in search of a free parking spot is definitely one of the greatest gifts that autonomous vehicles could give to human drivers. After dropping off their passengers, the study’s authors reasoned, AVs could head out of the city center to where the parking’s cheap. Over time, and with greater penetration of AVs into urban spaces, this could reduce the need for downtown parking, presenting a challenge and an opportunity: Cities would have to make up that revenue elsewhere, but they could also repurpose the valuable real estate. The authors write, “Much of the land devoted to parking lots in today’s cities could be converted to parks, housing or commercial spaces, and reducing curb parking could allow for wider bike lanes or sidewalks.”
Learn more here about the ripple effects that autonomous vehicles could have on urban planning.
— QUOTE OF THE DAY —
“I’ve never worked with fiberglass composite materials before. We had a new team, new factory, new process. It was a massive challenge.”
— Anderson Pinho, production manager for LM Wind Power
Quote: GE Reports. Image: GE Renewable Energy/LM Wind Power.
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