How an Electric Aerospace Company Uses the AWS Cloud to Test and Build Battery-Powered Aircraft

Vermont Startups Beta Technology Want to fill the sky with full-size battery-powered aircraft. Airplanes that transport goods and transport people have less of an impact on our planet. While charging vehicles on wheels (cars, trucks, and bicycles) on the ground has always been a fairly simple problem, lifting today’s heavy batteries into the sky is more of a challenge. For Beta Technologies, that means testing, testing and more testing.

Like the Wright Brothers in the open fields of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Beta Technologies is constantly tweaking prototype crafts—both full-size and miniature versions—to learn which components work as planned and which don’t. But unlike the Wright brothers, who mostly knew the design would work if it didn’t fall from the sky, the availability of tiny sensors and high-performance cloud computing meant a more granular and data-driven approach to pioneering a new way to fly. Using AWS, Beta Technologies processes and analyzes large amounts of information during each test. The prototype transmits about 1,000 data points to the ground console at a rate of about 100 times per second.

Kyle Clark, founder and CEO of Beta Technologies, stands in front of planes and helicopters.

Kyle Clark, founder and CEO of Beta Technologies.

“Because we use computational fluid dynamics and systems modeling, we have a full plan model of the aircraft,” says founder and CEO Kyle Clarke. “We can then take all this data and ‘re-fly’ the full-scale aircraft in a simulated environment, making those models better and better. This allows us to develop the final aircraft much more quickly.”

If Beta Technologies looks like it’s starting from scratch, it’s because building an airplane that runs solely on electricity means reimagining the plane’s entire mechanical system. Traditional fossil fuel-based processes have many limitations: fuel storage, piping and machinery to distribute fuel to engines, heating and cooling systems, exhaust systems, and more. With electric motors, most of those problems disappear, replaced by a new set of engineering problems.

Nevertheless, as Clarke puts it, the use of electric motors “is method Easier than fossil fuel propulsion. “

Top view of a small, aerodynamic white airplane with four small rotors on top.

Clark explained that Beta Technologies could attach the plane’s struts to the rear of the fuselage, rather than the front, because their plane doesn’t need air to cool the fuel, and electric propulsion is more efficient than fossil-fuel propulsion. This makes the entire craft more aerodynamic, reducing drag and increasing efficiency. Since the electric motor provides constant torque, Beta Technologies can mount four small rotors on top of the aircraft, like a helicopter or drone, so the aircraft can take off and land vertically.

“If we can take existing technology and get it adopted at a faster rate, then we will reverse climate change faster,” Clark said. “With better (electricity usage) estimators based on data, we can More batteries can be used, which means we have a more commercially viable product.”

The ability to take off and land vertically also eliminates – quite literally – an essential component of modern air travel: the runway. Because Beta Technologies’ vehicles can land in tight areas like a helicopter, they can access countless takeoff and landing spots, such as parking lots and hospital rooftops. The company’s first customers were organ donation organizations. The process of preparing an organ for a recipient’s body requires multiple point-to-point transfers, greatly improved by fast, precise aircraft.

A small plane flies over a tree-lined field dotted with buildings, with a body of water in the distance

The iteration and development their prototyping process requires would not have been possible without engineers, machinists, developers, product managers, field testers and managers all working in the same cloud environment, Clark said.

“When we release new code, it goes through code checks, simulated environments, small planes, Iron Bird flight simulators — all of that before it flies in a big plane,” Clark said. The header, data, and data rate must be parsed by the same tool. In Iron Bird, we get all the same data points that we get on the real aircraft, in the same format, so engineers can use the same tools to do the analysis here that they do in flight testing. “

“You can’t get 300 engineers to do it on a laptop,” Clark continued. “You have to put it in the cloud. There’s so much data and you need it to be accessible. Not only do you need to have access to it here, but our partners in other parts of the world also need to have access.”

Ultimately, building a battery-powered aircraft is a collaboration, Clark said.

For more details on the mechanics behind Beta Technologies’ electric motors and the steps the company is taking to iterate and improve them, listen to An episode of Now Go Buildan AWS series in which Amazon CTO Dr. Werner Vogels travels the world talking to companies using cloud computing to change the future.

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