Following last week’s announcement by Honeywell announcing the creation of a business unit to focus on the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) markets, ATM had the opportunity to discuss the announcement in more detail with Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of the newly formed business. You can find the full release below, the focus for our discussion looked more at the drivers in the market and within Honeywell for this business sector.
Honeywell has a long history in Aerospace/Aviation. Their products can be found on commercial, defense and space aircraft globally. It’s not surprising to now move into the unmanned version. Technology developed in support of manned aviation is being used as the platform to move into unmanned aviation.
Let’s look at the market opportunity in this space. Honeywell believes that by 2030, the market for UAM aircraft will be 120B USD globally. The calculation behind this is a comparison to a small jet which costs about 3M USD. In a jet of this kind, Honeywell could provide avionics and propulsion systems accounting for 20% of the vehicle’s value or roughly 600,000 USD. This would extrapolate to an addressable market for Honeywell by 2030 of 24B USD per year. Of course, they won’t win 100% of the market, but this is still a pretty large and appealing opportunity.
UAM is being looked at as two categories. The Urban Air Taxis that we hear discussed in the media on a daily basis, but also cargo drones. The latter are larger drones that would deliver cargo for the middle mile. Not directly to the customer, but for transportation between the shipping/delivery company locations. These vehicles won’t be flying as a business until some time between 2023 – 2027, but they are already currently in development.
When considering UAM, two topics come to mind – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity – that could play a role in this technology. We asked Honeywell about the opportunities to use these technologies and found the ideas quite insightful.
AI could play the role of the ‘human eyes’ when flying in an urban environment. When a GPS signal is currently lost, a human can determine where to fly to ensure they are safe from collisions with any infrastructure. AI could take on this role and help to navigate safely. A second topic is autonomous decision making. Similar to autonomous vehicles on the road, there is a time where a decision between two undesirable choices must be made. The difference in a car is that a human can still take the wheel in a dangerous situation, in a UAM vehicle this is not possible. AI could make decisions – not life threatening – that might not always align with the rules. Do you fly higher than you should for a short period of time to avoid dangerous air traffic, for example. Honeywell already has sensors in its portfolio that could be leveraged in UAM to help provide a complete situational awareness snapshot to the AI and the pilot.
Cybersecurity is required to ensure secure communications between the UAM vehicle and its pilot. This must be in place in order to establish that the individual who is controlling the flight is the individual who should be controlling the flight. As no remote software updates will take place ‘over the air’ for UAM, there is also assurance the code in use is the correct code and there is no opportunity for malicious interference during an update.
Honeywell is currently working with AirMap for connectivity and ANSP interfaces. As UAM trials gain more traction there would be an expectation for wider interaction with the market. In addition to what has already been discussed and presented in the detailed press release, there are three key reasons for the new business unit vs. inclusion in the larger Aerospace unit of the company:
- Many UAM companies are startups and are not comfortable navigating such a large organisation
- The new business unit can act almost like a system integrator to bring together the different products and technologies already available within the company to address this market
- Manage internal development required for UAM.
Honeywell has formed a new business unit dedicated to the growing Unmanned Aerial Systems and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industries. The Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) business unit will continue Honeywell’s momentum and leadership in these emerging markets, utilizing Honeywell’s technology, software, services and certification expertise to meet customers’ needs in these markets.
“Urban Air Mobility and Unmanned Aerial Systems will play an increasing role in the future of aerospace, with potential applications in all-electric urban air taxi vehicles, hybrid-electric unmanned cargo drones, optionally piloted airplanes, delivery drones and everything in between,” said Mike Madsen, president and CEO, Honeywell Aerospace. “Honeywell has already contributed many technological advancements to these markets, and is well positioned to continue growing our portfolio to meet customer needs and help shape the future of autonomous aviation and urban transport.”
Equipped with its own engineering and sales resources, the UAS business unit will develop new products and services uniquely required for these markets. It will also act as a systems integrator for all Honeywell products and services that could be used in this industry. These offerings include aircraft systems such as avionics, electric and hybrid-electric propulsion and thermal management, flight services such as unmanned air traffic management, and ground operations services such as predictive aircraft maintenance analytics. Beyond technology development, this business will be a single point of contact for innovative aircraft designers or operators to easily do business with Honeywell.
“We’re seeing the dawn of a new era in aviation, and Honeywell is at the forefront,” said Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of the newly formed business. “By forming this new organization, we will be able to harness the power of our engineering resources and know-how to transform urban air taxis, drone delivery of parcels and all forms of autonomous flight from a future vision into an everyday reality.”
The new organization will further expand Honeywell’s growing portfolio of UAM solutions, and is heavily focused on software development, driving rapid development and testing of new products like:
- A “fly-by-wire” autopilot system that automatically ensures aircraft stability even if the pilot is “hands off” for extended periods of time
- Detect-and-avoid algorithms that automatically fly an aircraft around oncoming traffic
- Artificial intelligence software that tracks landing zones for precise vertical landings every time
Honeywell is a leading provider of systems for urban air taxi and cargo vehicles as well as other types of aircraft, including integrated avionics, flight controls, electric and hybrid-electric propulsion, actuation, and cabin environmental control systems. The company collaborates actively with other industry leaders such as Pipistrel, Vertical Aerospace, Volocopter and Jaunt Air Mobility. Beyond UAM, discussions are also underway with customers pursuing other unmanned flight operations, such as drone package delivery.