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The Airplane Of The Future: Panoramic Cabin Views, Morphing Seats And Room In The Sky For Billions

Airbus engineers are coming up with startling new ideas for how planes could look – and operate – 40 years from now. By 2050, commercial aircraft may have transparent cabins, fly in formations and shuttle some 9 billion passengers.

Airbus's vitalizing zone by night - sit back and enjoy the night sky.
Airbus's vitalizing zone by night - sit back and enjoy the night sky.
Michael Donhauser

Stale dry air, narrow seats, jammed overhead compartments: today's air passenger has to be a real flying nut to think plane travel is any fun. But engineers at European manufacturer Airbus say they're working on ways to improve things. Implementing the changes will probably take up to four decades, but they assure us the result willA be more than worth the wait.

Flying in 2050 is going to be a real pleasure, the manufacturer says, with a 360-degree panoramic view whenever the "intelligent cabin membrane" is set on transparent, and a virtual golf course on board. Realistic projects, or overactive imaginations? "Engineers dream too," says Charles Champion, Airbus head of development. The Frenchman also points out that some of those dreams are already being implemented and may be launched in as little as 10 years from now.

One of the new ideas engineers are currently playing with involves harvesting passenger body heat to meet some of the plane's energy needs. Another idea refers to seats being upholstered with self-cleaning fabrics that adapt to each individual body form.

The first, business and economy class system would be abandoned: "It's not what people want," Champion says. Instead, there would be individual seating arrangements.

Innovations would by no means stop there. In the "vitalizing zone," for example, the air would be vitamin-enriched, while in the "interaction zone," passengers could enjoy virtual games of golf high up over the clouds, or go shopping and try on the latest fashions in virtual changing cabins. Through the cabin's transparent membrane, passengers would be able to gaze at the mountain peaks below them, and would be given information about the name of each summit and its exact height. State of the art communication with the ground would mean that business people could take part in video conferences at 33,000 feet, and that Mom or Dad could read bed time stories to their kids back home.

This cabin of the future—whose shape was modeled after birds—is part of Airbus's total concept for 2050. CEO Thomas Enders says the company expects the demand for aircraft to go up worldwide despite on-going problems faced by many airlines, particularly in Europe.

"Air travel continues to hold more long-term growth potential than virtually any other sector," Enders told the German newspaper "Welt am Sonntag." According to Airbus figures, air travel currently makes up 8%, or 580 billion dollars worth of the European gross domestic product. The sector employs 33 million people worldwide.

Airbus engineer Champion says that the three biggest current challenges are "that people want flying to be cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly." The sector has to find satisfactory answers to those demands, which is why flying will probably look completely different a few decades down the road. "By 2050, the sector will be hauling 9 billion passengers around the world," Champion says.

All that additional traffic will be possible thanks to new safety technologies that will enable companies to increase the number of flights fivefold. And instead of flying solo, planes could fly in formation and dock during flights to save on fuel. Airbus developers are even toying with the idea of huge airborne aircraft carriers that passenger planes could land on and be transported by.

Airbus' visions for airports of the future no longer include gates. Instead, planes would roll right up – subway style – to a station, with passengers boarding quickly through several doors with touch screens for the check in. Luggage would be put on a conveyor and stored in the cabin.

If Champion sees a sticking point, it concerns the airports themselves: "We can come up with all kinds of great stuff, but when a plane has to circle for 40 minutes over Heathrow before landing, a lot of it gets lost."

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Airbus

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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