Fast 5: Boeing HorizonX Pursues Next-Gen Aerospace Tech

Brian Schettler
Credit: Boeing HorizonX Ventures

Brian Schettler, senior managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures, chats with Lindsay Bjerregaard at CES about the types of disruptive technologies the company is looking to develop for the future of aerospace.

What types of technologies was Boeing HorizonX Ventures on the hunt for at CES this year, and why do you think they will be important or transformational to aerospace?

CES has grown so much from just a consumer electronics show to highlighting new advancements in mobility, manufacturing and enabling technologies that the future of aerospace can leverage. I’m particularly interested in solutions around autonomy, sensing and safety, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and Internet of Things (IoT).

What are some of the coolest technologies or startups you saw at CES this year?

It’s been great to see the rise of mobility being featured at CES. [Some of the coolest technologies have been] the new urban mobility platforms that can transport passengers safely and efficiently in city centers (which Boeing is developing solutions for as well). And it isn’t just about the platforms (vehicles), it is the entire ecosystem of technologies, infrastructure, business models, regulation and investment that have to come together.

Which technology trends do you really see taking off within the aerospace industry in the next decade?

Electrification, autonomy, new connectivity solutions, advanced computing and industry 4.0 technologies. To that end, HorizonX Ventures has already made a number of investments in early stage companies to support these areas. EP Systems and Cuberg are pursuing new battery system and cell capabilities to unlock the future of safe, electric flight. For autonomy, companies like Near Earth Autonomy, Fortem Technologies and SparkCognition are contributing key innovations in sensing and algorithms to make safe unmanned platforms, as well as AI to do predictive analytics and make for a smarter, more secure, safe and efficient national airspace.

From a connectivity perspective, ultra-reliable and high-bandwidth communications will be critical for these new platforms, and companies like BridgeComm and Isotropic Systems are creating new RF and optical systems to vastly improve connectivity. Lastly, from a manufacturing perspective we are investing in companies that can improve quality, speed and cost of manufacturing for future mobility solutions with companies like Digital Alloys, Morf3d and Gamma Alloys.

Urban air mobility (UAM) was a big theme again at CES this year, with a number of different OEMs breaking into the vTOL/eVTOL market. Is Boeing HorizonX working with any of the companies or suppliers from CES focused in this area, and/or is it looking to find partnerships in this area?

Boeing has been creating solutions for this market via our Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary and through Boeing NeXt. Additionally, we recently announced a partnership with Wisk (formerly Kittyhawk) to also create vehicles for this market. Lastly, we’ve announced partnerships with Porsche to develop a premium air mobility vehicle. That said, we’re always looking for good partners to help bring this market to a reality.

There seem to be a number of different segments within UAM, such as the “flying taxi” model or unmanned air cargo. Which areas is Boeing HorizonX focused on and how is it innovating in these segments?

We’re focused on both. We think the cargo market will be a good pathway to passenger mobility. In addition to the platforms I already mentioned, we also have a Cargo Air Vehicle capable of 500-lb. cargo delivery. On the HorizonX side we are investing in early-stage companies with key enabling tech that can make these products incredibly capable—battery tech, autonomy tech, connectivity, manufacturing, etc.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.