Archives for September 12, 2018

British air taxi firm takes flight, inspired by F1 racing advances

LONDON (Reuters) – A British energy entrepreneur and one-time Formula 1 racing team owner is entering the race to build new inter-city “flying taxi” services that tap recent aerospace advances while steering clear of more fanciful blue-sky visions touted by tech-focused rivals.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder of Ovo Energy, an upstart challenger to the UK’s big six electric utilities, said his new venture will apply lessons from F1 racing to build electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

    Vertical Aerospace, as his self-funded, Bristol-based flying company is known, aims to offer short-haul, inter-city flights carrying multiple passengers using piloted aircraft within four years, Fitzpatrick said.

Since its inception in 2016, the firm has hired 28 veteran aerospace and technical experts from Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Martin Jetpack and GE with extensive experience building certified commercial aircraft.

Unlike the majority of flying-car projects from tech, aerospace and automotive entrepreneurs that have captured the popular imagination by seeking to turn aircraft into pilotless, autonomous vehicles, Vertical believes it can overcome regulatory and safety concerns by delivering piloted, fixed-wing aircraft that capitalize on incremental, existing innovations.

    Vertical is looking to target some of the most congested air corridors in the world with aircraft that don’t require runways but also have enough heft to travel up to 500 miles (800 km), Fitzpatrick said in an interview.

“We are investing in all the technology evolution taking place in aerospace but we are trying to apply that to something that’s real world and is possible to execute four years out,” the Vertical Aerospace founder and chief executive said.

“We are not waiting for huge changes in existing regulations.”

Competitors working toward launching autonomous flying cars early in the next decade range from aerospace giant Airbus to Uber, which is developing an intra-city flying taxi fleet, Volocopter, which is testing drone taxis that resemble a small helicopter powered by 18 rotors, and AeroMobil, with a stretch-limousine concept that can turn into a fixed-wing aircraft.

An image handed out on behalf of Vertical Aerospace shows its prototype of a flying taxi during a demonstration at Costwold Airport, near Kemble, Britain, June 5, 2018. GF Williams/Milltown Partners, handout via Reuters

Several of these projects envision services that can be ordered up, on-demand, via smartphones, from skyhubs in city centers.

FLYING RACE CARS

    Vertical said it had conducted a test flight of an unmanned, single-passenger vertical take-off prototype at an airport in Gloucestershire in western England in June after it was granted flight permission by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The black passenger pod with four rosters set the stage for more ambitious work.

    It is gearing up to produce a fixed-wing, piloted version of its vertical take-off aircraft capable of carrying multiple passengers. It will work with regulators to win certification in the first stage of the air taxi project through 2022, it said.

    In a later stage, Vertical will seek to extend the aircraft’s range, introduce elements of autonomous flight and expand the number of chartered routes it can serve.

Belfast-born Fitzpatrick prides himself on developing business ideas in areas where, at the outset, he has zero technical background.

    He said he spent years studying energy markets before launching his energy utility firm, Ovo, in 2009. It now counts around 680,000 customers, or 2.5 percent of the UK domestic retail energy market, and employs 1,200 staff.

    His first brush with hardware and physical product engineering came when he was a short-term owner of flagging Formula 1 team Manor Racing.

Fitzpatrick said it dawned on him that many racing car advances also applied to aircraft, from high-powered electric batteries to hybrid power trains, lighter structural materials, like carbon fiber and, of course, aerodynamic design.

    “The technology we were using in Formula 1 was just too high-spec to be applied to the challenges of the typical road car,” Fitzpatrick said. “What you can get from an F1 engine has more power density per kilo than a jet turbine,” he said.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Reporting by Eric Auchard in London; Editing by Keith Weir

Enterprise investments in datacentre infrastructure rebound as component shortage price hikes hit

Following successive quarters of decline, enterprise spending on datacentre infrastructure appears to be rallying, fuelled in part by rising component costs and demand for private cloud deployments.

That’s according to Synergy Research Group’s second-quarter datacentre infrastructure market tracker, which shows a 28% increase in the amount of money spent on datacentre hardware and software over the past 24 months.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the growing demand for public cloud-enabling datacentre hardware and software. This, in turn, has benefited suppliers in this space, which are reporting 54% revenue growth over the same time period.

“We are seeing cloud service revenues continuing to grow by 50% per year, enterprise SaaS [software-as-a-service] revenues growing by over 30%, search/social networking revenues growing by over 25%, and e-commerce revenues growing by over 40%, all of which are driving big increases in spending on public cloud infrastructure,” said John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group.

According to Synergy’s own calculations, total datacentre infrastructure equipment revenue hit $38bn in the second quarter of 2018, with public cloud-enabling technology accounting for around a third of this spend.

The analyst house has also picked up on a sudden surge in spending on infrastructure for use in enterprise facilities, particularly where private cloud-enabling technologies are concerned.

“Growth for enterprise datacentre infrastructure has been much lower, and spending was actually in slow decline until the recent spike in server demand and pricing gave vendor revenues a boost,” Synergy Research Group said in a statement.

Within the enterprise, it is private cloud infrastructure that is driving spending, with a 45% increase since the second quarter of 2016.”

From a supplier perspective, Dell EMC is leading the private cloud market, followed by Microsoft and HPE, Synergy’s research shows, while on the public cloud-enabling infrastructure side, it is the white-label, original design manufacturers (ODMs) who are ruling the roost.

“ODMs in aggregate account for the largest portion of the public cloud market, with Dell EMC being the leading individual vendor, followed by Cisco and HPE,” said Synergy.

Rising cost of hardware

It is not just the growing demand for private cloud deployments that has caused enterprise spending on datacentre infrastructure to surge. Ongoing component shortages are also driving up the average selling price of kit, which is having an impact too.

It is a trend fellow IT analyst house Gartner has previously flagged as having a dampening effect on server shipments across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) in recent quarters, as increased prices have caused some enterprises to delay server refresh projects.

Despite this, and as a direct consequence of the price hikes, the amount of revenue generated by sales of these servers has risen.

In particular, it is the supply of semiconductors, and consequently dynamic random access memory (DRAM), that appears to have hit the datacentre infrastructure market hard in recent months.

Industry watchers have attributed the shortages to a mix of issues, including the explosion in hyperscale cloud datacentres, growing demand for internet-connected devices, and the supply chain disruption caused by a series of mergers and acquisitions in the server component space.

There is also evidence, Synergy said, to suggest enterprises are also buying more expensive datacentre equipment, as they opt for systems that can handle the increasing workload complexities associated with running hybrid cloud environments.