Sunday, April 27, 2008

MAVs and Aerospace Innovation

Innovate, as described by Concise Oxford English Dictionary is to make changes in something already existing, as by introducing new methods, ideas or products. Obviously when you make a change in a system, the change can yield positive or negative outcomes. The result of the innovation is not always predictable before making the changes. So the key to innovation is the ability to change a system and to study the outcome of the system so as to reshape it accordingly.
But change comes at a cost in terms of man power, money and time. A system that is easy to tinker with, where changes can be brought easily can be subjected to rapid innovation. The software field is a perfect example of such a system. It costs quite less to put an idea into action in IT. It costs even less to do incremental changes/enhancements to an existing system. Whatever you think in mind can be developed and put into action quite easily. When the cost in terms of manpower and money falls, then many people go for the changes frequently. A fall in the duration of time enables to study the outcome of the change and mend the system accordingly. Linux kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds single handedly. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created personal computer Apple 1 with a very small investment. The history of the IT industry is full of such examples.
Coming to Aerospace, the rules change in toto. It costs huge amount to design and develop an aircraft or rocket. You need large manufacturing facilities, a large group of engineers and skilled labourers . And still it takes years to design and develop any system. As a result the pace of innovation in Aerospace is quite small.

I think MAVs are going to change this slow pace of innovation in Aerospace industry. MAVs(Micro Air Vehicles) and Micro/Mini Satellites are smaller versions of aircrafts and satellites respectively. A group of 4 people with an investment of some lakhs and within a span of 2 years can design and develop a MAV or Micro Satellite from scratch. A great deal of R&D has already begun and quite a good number of MAVs have been successfully built and operated. But as the MAV building know-how becomes widespread and streamlined and the parts required for making such a system becomes easily available, the process of design and development of MAVs will accelerate.
This will give ample scope for Aerospace engineers, researchers and evangelists to give wind to their imagination.