In 2018, Boeing will unveil an airplane that has lasers shooting from its nose.
Turbulence is an annoyance travelers have simply had to put up with in order to get to their final destination. But Boeing is looking to change all that with a new laser system that can detect unexpected turbulence.
As Wired reported, the aircraft giant is hoping to put an end to everything from severe, harmful turbulence to minor irritations like spilled drinks with a long-range lidar laser attached to the nose of a Boeing 777.
“We expect to be able to spot clear-air turbulence more than 60 seconds ahead of the aircraft, or about 17.5 kilometers (10.9 miles), giving the crew enough time to secure the cabin and minimize the risk of injuries,” Stefan Bieniawski, the Boeing program’s lead investigator, told Wired.
The laser, which was developed by Boeing in partnership with Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, works by projecting a “steady line ahead of the aircraft,” Wired explained.
Software then analyzes the plane’s movement in relationship to the movement of particles reflected by the laser. Any significant changes that the laser detects will alert the crew that there is turbulence ahead, giving them the time they need to take their seats or divert the aircraft if necessary.
And while ending a bit of a bumpy ride may not seem like a huge deal, the development couldn't come at a more crucial time. A recent study suggests turbulence could get 149 percent worse, thanks to climate change.
That's the kind of turbulence that sends passengers and crew members to the hospital, like the 24 people injured on JetBlue flight 429 that made an emergency landing in South Dakota or, more recently, the 27 passengers hospitalized after an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Bangkok hit turbulence that "came out of nowhere."
The turbulence-detecting laser is just one of the many technological advancements Boeing plans to test in the coming months. As Wired noted, this year’s program will try an estimated 30 new systems attached to the 777.
“This is all about accelerating technologies,” Doug Christensen, a manager in the ecoDemonstrator program, told Wired. “We want to see if they work and how they integrate into the airplanes.”
Hey, anything to make our ride a bit smoother is good with us.