NASA’s Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge is part of a growing movement within the aviation community to develop a future urban air transport system. Here’s one artist’s rendition of how a future urban airspace might look. NASA is assessing responses to an initial Request for Information (RFI) as the first step in kicking off its Grand Challenge. Responses were due...
NASA’s Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge is part of a growing movement within the aviation community to develop a future urban air transport system. Here’s one artist’s rendition of how a future urban airspace might look.
NASA is assessing responses to an initial Request for Information (RFI) as the first step in kicking off its Grand Challenge. Responses were due November 16, 2018 and served to get a better idea of what organizations are interested in participating. Participants might include air vehicle developers, air traffic management system developers, the FAA, and others. Certain consulting firms, like Booz Allen Hamilton, have already started working through select scenarios.
The RFI document, released by NASA one month earlier, stated “each participant will each be challenged to complete a series of common safety and integration scenarios”. The actual scenarios will be released after NASA finishes assessing potential participants.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) has expressed interest in getting involved with the Grand Challenges. A briefing published by the AOPA declared Senior Director of Airspace, Air Traffic, and Aviation Security Rune Duke wrote to NASA, reminding them that for the Grand Challenges program, “collaboration with other airspace stakeholders will be key to success.” AOPA has repeatedly shown interest in tackling metropolitan air transport challenges. They recently published this video from the National Business Aviation conference in Orlando, Oct 2018.
Why it’s Important:
The Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge is a multi-phase program that will, over the course of several years, identify and address the key challenges associated with accessible air transport systems in metropolitan areas. The first phase, named GC-1, will kick off the program by promoting UAM and building the public’s confidence in its safety. NASA plans to sponsor community learning and a possible flight demonstration as part of this mission.
A new startup has emerged in Mumbai, India. VTOL Aviation India seeks to develop a safe, effective, and efficient air taxi for India, even as Uber Elevate eyes the area for initial test flights. According to VTOL Aviation India’s website, its goal is to “define a transition aircraft concept with better performance in safety, noise, speed, range and payload than...
A new startup has emerged in Mumbai, India. VTOL Aviation India seeks to develop a safe, effective, and efficient air taxi for India, even as Uber Elevate eyes the area for initial test flights.
According to VTOL Aviation India’s website, its goal is to “define a transition aircraft concept with better performance in safety, noise, speed, range and payload than existing concepts, while cutting complexity to one third and reducing the emissions to absolutely negligible fractions.”
It’s possible that because the company is beginning its air taxi efforts now, it will be ready for India market before Uber Elevate arrives. VTOL Aviation India was founded by Mr. Kalyan Chowdhury, who originally held expertise in the shipping and logistics industry in India. The company envisions that its aircraft will be used for civil defense, paramedic & emergency services, surveillance, aviation training, and Tourism & Business Chartering.
The ‘transition aircraft’ as the company calls it, is being developed in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. It features eight vertical rotors which lift it vertically, and a ninth rear-facing that provides thrust for horizontal flight. Unlike other VTOL designs, the aircraft does not feature a tilting wing, which reduces the amount of complex moving parts on the aircraft and may therefore bring down manufacturing cost. This design is similar to the KittyHawk Cora which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page.
VTOL Aviation India yet has yet to make any comments about its position as opposed to Uber Elevate, but its existence may pressure Uber into choosing India as its first international launch city in order to capture the market before companies like VTOL Aviation India do so. Learn more about the company’s goals and vision here.
Uber Elevate has already selected Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles California in the United States as it’s initial test locations, but is still deciding on third launch location as either Australia, Brazil, India, France, or Japan. Japan has already founded an initiative to integrate flying cars into the market, and officials in Australia have recently met with Uber Elevate execs as well.
Why its important: Competition is rising for the emerging on-demand VTOL industry around the world. As the impending success of the industry becomes more and more apparent, it’s very likely that smaller companies like VTOL Aviation India will begin popping up all over the world; as their geographical location would give them a leg up on bigger companies like Uber in their respective areas.
At the Drone Week conference in Amsterdam, Audi and Airbus jointly showed off a one-fourth scale working model of the Pop.Up concept, which Airbus debuted in May of 2017. The Pop.Up is a three-part modular vehicle consisting of a passenger pod, a four-wheeled ground adaptation designed by Audi, and a a quad-copter attachment for urban flight. The Pop.Up model featured...
At the Drone Week conference in Amsterdam, Audi and Airbus jointly showed off a one-fourth scale working model of the Pop.Up concept, which Airbus debuted in May of 2017.
The Pop.Up is a three-part modular vehicle consisting of a passenger pod, a four-wheeled ground adaptation designed by Audi, and a a quad-copter attachment for urban flight.
The Pop.Up model featured at Drone Week was built in collaboration with Italdesign, a world-renowned subsidiary of Audi. In addition to the smaller working model, the companies also exhibited full size mockups of the Pop.Up. Attendees got the chance to experience what it would be like to use the the vehicle.
In the test flight, the small scale prototype picked up the passenger pod from the ground vehicle, carried it a significant distance, and the deposited it back onto the ground vehicle to continue its journey. While the model itself was fairly small, the technology exhibited was impressive and sleek to say the least.
While regulations may be lagging behind, the emergence of the Pop.Up prototype at Drone Week shows that the technology required for aircraft like this is well on its way to ready for market.
And the Pop.Up isn’t Airbus’s only urban aviation aircraft. Also in development is the Airbus Vahana. Vahana is a project worked on by the A^3 technological development arm of Airbus, and is located in Santa Clara, CA. The aircraft uses variable-angle rotors that provide thrust vertically for takeoff and landing and swivel forward to facilitate accelerated conventional flight.
Why it’s important: With more and more important urban air mobility announcements coming out daily, the world is starting to notice. The Pop.Up prototype video was featured by both Bloomberg and Forbes, and multiple major news networks like CNN have also recently covered stories like the Hoversurf police training in Dubai. Without a doubt, the public is becoming more and more aware of the upcoming urban air mobility revolution, pushing progress further forward.
After selling his IoT software company to General Electric in 2017, Israeli entrepreneur Guy Kaplinsky has has founded flying car startup ‘New Future Transportation’. “The need for change is obvious, due to the increasing congestion in large cities and the ever-increasing traffic problems.” Says Kaplinsky, who plans to develop a flying car that can effectively take to the road as...
After selling his IoT software company to General Electric in 2017, Israeli entrepreneur Guy Kaplinsky has has founded flying car startup ‘New Future Transportation’.
“The need for change is obvious, due to the increasing congestion in large cities and the ever-increasing traffic problems.” Says Kaplinsky, who plans to develop a flying car that can effectively take to the road as well as the skies. Kalipsky believes the vehicle will be about the size of an average SUV, and will even be competitively priced to one. His vision is for a vehicle that comes in both electric and hybrid models, and has at least semi-autonomous capabilities for both the ground and the air.
Unlike many competitors, Kaplinsky plans to aim more at the automotive sector than at the aerospace center. “We are working on a different product, which is indeed a flying car, but one that would be able to move on the ground, fly in the air and find a standard parking space at the end of the journey.” New Future Transport already has $2 million in funding put in by Kaplinsky himself, and is currently looking for another $15 million to take its prototype to the skies in mid to late 2015.
Also from Israel comes the Cormorant, developed by Israeli firm Urban Aeronautics. CEO Rafi Yoeli imagines that this vehicle, which completed unmanned test flights in November of 2016, will be used to autonomously clear areas of chemicals in emergency situations or to evacuate injured soldiers in the battlefield. Urban Aeronautics has been working on the concept, previously called the ‘Air Mule’, since 2001. Each unit will cost around $20 million, have a carrying capacity of about 500kg, and be able to fly at speeds of up to 185kph.
Why it’s important: As flying car development begins to become more prevalent around the world, the solutions and technologies available will become more and more wide-ranging. This means that competition is beginning to grow, and as a result the industry is becoming more widespread and advanced. Companies like Urban Aeronautics and NFT contribute to an ever-diversifying range of applications for eVTOL technology.
A UK design consultancy firm called ‘small’, (Six Miles Across London Ltd.) recently showed the world its latest concept for a vertiport, designed specifically for the Volocopter, which will be conducting tests in Singapore in 2019. The vertiport has a modular design that allows its exterior to fitted with lounge and seating areas, repair and spare battery storage areas, and...
A UK design consultancy firm called ‘small’, (Six Miles Across London Ltd.) recently showed the world its latest concept for a vertiport, designed specifically for the Volocopter, which will be conducting tests in Singapore in 2019.
The vertiport has a modular design that allows its exterior to fitted with lounge and seating areas, repair and spare battery storage areas, and even small dining and retail facilitates. The idea of the vertiport is essentially provide a small-scale airport.
The main creator, Small (Six Miles Across London Ltd.), is led by founder Ricky Sandhu, who has over 15 years of experience at Foster and Partners, an expert in Architectural Design and Engineering. Small was born out of the project ‘six miles across london’; a manifesto that reimagined Sandhu’s journey from home to work.
Sandhu envisions that his vertiports will take visitors between major metropolitan areas and the nearest large scale airports. As he states, this would be about a 30 minute journey in places like San Francisco or New York, which is about the range of many eVTOLs currently in development.
The vertiport was designed in collaboration with Arup, a firm responsible for over one hundred airport designs. Arup also made a concept design for Uber Elevate, as featured below.
This comes at a time when other companies have been working on a myriad of vertiport designs. One of one these is Paramount’s Miami World Center, who’s project lead hopes to cut down on commute time for residents.
Uber Elevate also recently held a competition for vertiport designs, some of the particpants of which are featured here:
Why it’s important: The evolving development of infrastructure for eVTOLs show that the future air taxi services is becoming more and more certain. Major industries are beginning to prepare for the integration of air taxis. These designs by major firms increase the public awareness of air taxis, which will lead to public assuredness sooner rather than later later.
What a flying car powered by ionic wind may one day look like. Scientists at MIT hit a major breakthrough earlier this week when they competed test flights of a model airplane powered completely by ionic wind. This means the aircraft had no moving parts, was completely silent, and produced absolutely no carbon emissions. It was also fully electric. A...
Scientists at MIT hit a major breakthrough earlier this week when they competed test flights of a model airplane powered completely by ionic wind. This means the aircraft had no moving parts, was completely silent, and produced absolutely no carbon emissions. It was also fully electric.
This advancement represents a major step for the science of aviation. The MIT test plane is one of the first ever ‘solid-state’ aircraft, meaning it has no mechanical moving parts. According to associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT Steven Barrett, this technology has “potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”
For the world of Urban Aviation, this could one day mean that we see urban eVTOLs powered not by rotors, but by charged ionic wind. Ionic wind as a propulsion system would work extremely effectively for urban operations, since the solution is emission-free, completely silent, and invulnerable to potential mechanical interference.
Ionic wind is created by electric current. In the model aircraft by MIT, 20,000 volts of electricity are run through two wires on the underside of the the plane’s wings. The front wire is charged to positive, while the back wire is charged to negative. The front wire removes electrons from nitrogen in the air around the plane, making them negatively charged and causing them to accelerate quickly towards the back wire. The acceleration of this ‘wind’ gives the airplane thrust, which in turn generates lift for its wings.
Why it’s important: While the commercialization of ionic wind technology made be further down the road, it’s important to keep track of the feasibility development of these technologies as they may one day set the trend for flying vehicles.
SkyGrid is a new company jointly founded by Boeing and SparkCognition to build AI-powered software for managing airspace with autonomous vehicles. SkyGrid’s purpose is to integrate all urban airspace traffic including cargo and passenger air vehicles as well as package delivery drones. According to its website, “SkyGrid is the world’s first artificial intelligence and blockchain-powered aerial operating system for next-generation...
SkyGrid is a new company jointly founded by Boeing and SparkCognition to build AI-powered software for managing airspace with autonomous vehicles.
SkyGrid’s purpose is to integrate all urban airspace traffic including cargo and passenger air vehicles as well as package delivery drones.
According to its website, “SkyGrid is the world’s first artificial intelligence and blockchain-powered aerial operating system for next-generation travel and transport that will ensure safe integration of autonomous air vehicles.”
The SkyGrid program will enable the future of urban air mobility by providing a smart, safe, secure way for air vehicles to travel. One of SkyGrid’s greatest advantages is that it will offer AI-enabled route identification. Simply put, SkyGrid is an automated air traffic controller for autonomous vehicles in urban areas.
SkyGrid works through the power of machine learning, using big data to efficiently and safely manage aircraft routes. The system will takes into account current air traffic in the area, weather, vehicle diagnostics, and in-flight route modification when assigning routes. Eventually, SkyGrid’s goal is to provide autonomous navigation directly to vehicles.
SkyGrid plans to work with the FAA and NASA regulations to eventually achieve automated flight plan approval. Boeing is partnered with Uber Elevate, both of which have been in extensive talks with NASA and the FAA. NASA is also holding a series of Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges that will give companies like SkyGrid a chance to prove the safety of their technology and provide a framework for regulation. The first of these challenges will be in 2020.
It’s unclear yet whether SkyGrid will only be available for autonomous vehicles, or will be used for route guidance in piloted aircraft as well. Since autonomy is likely to come later than piloted aircraft (as stated by many vehicle developers), it would make sense for Boeing to develop a version of SkyGrid that works for those initial piloted vehicles. Boeing has yet declined to state who their exact customers will be, but has stated that it is already working with several partners on many potential use cases.
The announcement of the SkyGrid venture comes four months after Boeing and SparkCognition announced their partnership in July of 2018 with the intent of creating the digital UTM system. At that time, SparkCognition CEO Amir Husai commented:
“Estimated by some analysts at $3 trillion, the urban aerial mobility opportunity will lead to the creation of the largest new market in our lifetimes.”
Husai will now also serve as the CEO of SkyGrid. He states:
“By offering scalable and robust capabilities in a single, integrated framework, SkyGrid will make large-scale air vehicle applications more practical and accessible.”
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg put out this tweet:
— Dennis A. Muilenburg (@BoeingCEO) November 20, 2018
Why it’s important: The effective development of UTM systems is vital to a future of autonomous urban air mobility aircraft. While systems like SkyGrid and Airmap are made for autonomous operations and currently focus on drones, their development marks the first step towards safe autonomous passenger aircraft. It’s likely that UTM systems will scale from unmanned drone management to route guidance for piloted aircraft, and then eventually to autonomous passenger vehicles.
In early September, Jetcopter showed the world its concept for a jet-powered VTOL. Now, it has re-iterated the design with a larger version that can fit up to seven passengers. In September, we noted Jetcopter’s unique design concept–it’s one of the only VTOLs that will be powered by jets rather than propellers. Earlier this week, Jetcopter released concept images...
In early September, Jetcopter showed the world its concept for a jet-powered VTOL. Now, it has re-iterated the design with a larger version that can fit up to seven passengers.
In September, we noted Jetcopter’s unique design concept–it’s one of the only VTOLs that will be powered by jets rather than propellers.
Earlier this week, Jetcopter released concept images of its updated design, along with an announcement that it will bring a full scale mockup of the Jetcopter VTOL to the AERO 2019 aviation exhibition EuroFriedrichshafen, Germany, in April 2019.
The new design has a larger body than than the original, which could only carry six people and was designed for passengers rather than cargo. With the new concept, Jetcopter plans to produce a cargo version of the aircraft before releasing the passenger version.
Jetcopter also announced that it has successfully tested its jet propulsion system, confirming feasibility for the Jetcopter itself.
The Jetcopter’s design is also unique in that it will be powered by two traditional automotive engines These two engines will provide power for the jet fans on the vehicle’s roof, which will push air through the vectored nozzles that provide lift for and control the aircraft.
The Jetcopter has a carbon fiber based fuselage, a planned range of 620 miles, and a top speed of 180mph. It’s two engines each have 400hp available. The price will be around $350,000. Learn more about the Jetcopter.
Why it’s important: It’s important to note that Jetcopter has chosen to release a cargo version of its aircraft before releasing the passenger version. In a recent speech, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg predicted that initial urban air mobility operations will begin with cargo flights in the next five years. By choosing to release a cargo version of its aircraft first, Jetcopter has increased the likelihood of beginning operations soon, and has a given itself a chance to be a the forefront of inspiring public confidence in VTOLs.
Although Amazon hasn’t named these planned helipads as vertiports, the planned Helipads for the HQ2 buildings would work well for eVTOL transport. Jeff Bezos, as many know, has many ambitions and is extremely forward thinking. He’s not only the founder and CEO of Amazon, but is also the founder of commercial space travel company Blue Origin. As Amazon has continued...
Although Amazon hasn’t named these planned helipads as vertiports, the planned Helipads for the HQ2 buildings would work well for eVTOL transport.
Jeff Bezos, as many know, has many ambitions and is extremely forward thinking. He’s not only the founder and CEO of Amazon, but is also the founder of commercial space travel company Blue Origin. As Amazon has continued to grow, it’s constantly looking to the future.
The new Amazon ‘HQ2′ buildings will be strategically placed on the East River in New York, and close to the Potomoc in Northern Virginia. Although amazon has declined to comment on the reasoning of this choice, the buildings’ proximity to these waterway will give them access to the rivers’ flight corridors. This means that Amazon wouldn’t have to wait until regulation allows eVTOLs to fly over buildings in order to begin operations to places like JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Airport.
Designing vertiports for buildings is no easy task. According to Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal (in an interview with Forbes), there’s no way to easily retrofit vertiports onto buildings. This means that anyone developing real estate now should consider laying the groundworks for the transportation networks of the future. Already, Landing pad plans have been made by real estate companies like Paramount in Miami, which envision cutting commutes down for their residents.
Blade, an on-demand helicopter taxi service in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami, has already raised $38 million from Airbus and real estate investment firm Colony to develop vertiports in various cities. According to CEO Wiesenthal, there’s several buildings in New York that are already adding capabilities for their buildings to include landing pads, including real estate company Vornado’s redevelopment of its properties across from Manhattan’s Penn Station. According to Wiesenthal, these buildings “basically have hidden skyports”.
One other luxury VTOL developer in New York is Transcend Air, which plans on releasing its air taxi service in New York and other cities by 2024. In an interview with Forbes, Transcend Air CEO commented, “Jeff Bezos has his own spacecraft company—of course he’s thinking about the future of aerospace and transportation”.
Why its important: Announcements by real estate companies of vertiport plans are becoming more prevalent. Since real estate projects can often take a long time, it’s vital that any developers wanting to be the first to support urban air taxi transport start their projects now. The fact developers are willing to commit an urban air mobility future by investing in these projects gives even more validity to a future of urban aviation.
Dufour Aerospace is a unique VTOL start-up based in Switzerland. It’s mission is to develop a passenger VTOL for areas like the Swiss Alps, where mountainous terrain can cause extremely long travel times between cities. The Dufour team has already made significant progress by developing an electric airplane that has proven flight up to one hour, multiple times per day....
Dufour Aerospace is a unique VTOL start-up based in Switzerland. It’s mission is to develop a passenger VTOL for areas like the Swiss Alps, where mountainous terrain can cause extremely long travel times between cities.
The Dufour team has already made significant progress by developing an electric airplane that has proven flight up to one hour, multiple times per day. Dufour predicts that it will have its aEro2 eVTOL for testing by 2020.
On November 14th, Dufour announced the formation of Senior Advisory team, which includes Professor Dr. Leonardo Manfriani (former chief aerodynamicist at Pilatus Aircraft), Dr. Pierluigi Capone (former head of flight control laws at AgustaWestland), and Dr. Jean-Christophe Zufferey (Co-founder and former CEO of senseFly).
This Announcement also comes with a statement from Dufour saying that The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm recently conducted a performance review of the aEro2’s design, which confirmed its stability with at least 10% safety margin across all modes of flight.
Dufour is also closely working on its R&D projects with ETH Zürich and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences to “further develop Dufour’s tilt-wing aircraft propulsion, control systems, and human-machine interfaces”.
Among the notable members of the Senior Advisory team is Dr. Jean-Christophe Zufferey, who is the co-founder and former CEO of senseFly, which developed a series of fixed-wing drones for various commercial mapping needs including agriculture, construction, environmental protection, and mining. Drones made by sureFly can fly up to 90 minutes at altitudes up to 400 ft. SureFly is now a subsidiary of the Parrot Group.
Also significant on the advisory team is Dr. Leonardo Manfriani, former chief aerodynamicist at Pilatus Aircraft. Pilatus is a leading developer of private aircraft ranging from trainer planes to passenger jets. Having Manfriani on the senior advisory will greatly help Dufour reach its goal of a 2020 fuselage build.
Why it’s important: With the formation of its new senior advisory team, Dufour continues to grow. In early September, it hired test pilot Damian Hischier, who has extensive experience in testing new aircraft. The new senior advisory team further validates the aEro2 concept, and builds momentum for Dufour.
NASA and Booz’s Executive Brief in Detail NASA and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released a joint study on November 12 that outlined future projections of the urban aviation industry. The original executive briefing was presented on October 5th to NASA’s Aeronautics Research Directorate. Before we go into the details of the study, here are some of the key takeaways:...
NASA and Booz’s Executive Brief in Detail
NASA and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released a joint study on November 12 that outlined future projections of the urban aviation industry. The original executive briefing was presented on October 5th to NASA’s Aeronautics Research Directorate. Before we go into the details of the study, here are some of the key takeaways:
- Airport Shuttle and Air Taxi markets have a total addressable market of over $500 Billion
- Air Ambulance services are not practical due to technology constraints – but hybrid aircraft may provide feasible alternatives
- Legal, regulatory, weather, public perception, and infrastructure hurdles exist
- 0.5% of the TAM, or $2.5 Billion, could be captured in the near term
- Constraints may be eased by government partnerships, industry collaboration, industry commitment, and existing legal and regulatory enablers
That’s the Summary. Here are the details.
A Strategic Advisory Group, or SAG, was assembled from prominent figures in the UAM, transportation, government regulations, infrastructures, public policy, and insurance disciplines – the SAG serves as an invaluable resource that enabled the information and advice of experts in their respective disciplines to offer their work and research toward answering some of the most pressing issues in the path towards wide spread UAM application. The study analyzed the following key components, each of which will be detailed below:
- Market Selection
- Legal and Regulatory
- Societal Barriers
- Weather Analysis
- Market Analysis
The study focused on a consortium of 10 cities across the United States to represent the larger industry.
Of potential interest in the selection of these 10 cities (and one city that has not been considered as heavily in the past) was that of Denver. Other cities that were selected, such as Los Angeles and Miami, have already been under consideration by real estate development companies and technology firm UAM development plans. However, the selection of Denver in this study is important – Denver has the potential for the lowest portion of air taxi shuttle trips within the FAA’s National Airspace System (NAS), which balances the perspective of a mostly urban-dominated, completely NAS-immersed UAM operating environment.
Legal and Regulatory
The largest legal and regulatory challenges that have the potential to slow urban aviation are regulations that already exist. In general, the framework for certifying aircraft already exists, but there are numerous legal barriers and gaps in the path to certification for some aircraft that may be classified as rotorcraft/mixed propulsion. Similarly, determining which regulations apply to what component(s) of air taxis is another challenge that has not yet been answered. Finally, system redundancy and failure management are critical safety considerations that will not be amended whatsoever for the sake of introducing a new type of aircraft such as an air taxi.
Fortunately, there are answers on the horizon to these challenges; for instance, ballistic parachute recovery systems are being developed for UAM systems. Additionally, the summary also cited that voluntary self-regulation (or even proposal of standards) may help to advance the regulatory process faster than relying solely on federal and state governments.
The largest concerns from the audience surveyed in this study (both younger persons aged 18-29 and older persons aged over 50) focused on credibility of pilots and the manufacturers of the aircraft. In general, those pilots/companies who were older attained a higher level of perceived experience, but gender and racial bias also played a role in affecting a passenger’s comfort with boarding a given flight. Passengers preferred intra-city hops instead of inter-city trips, and surprisingly, accepted a “hybrid flight deck” configuration where one pilot was onboard and the other “pilot” was automated.
Interestingly, the study also analyzed the position of weather in effecting UAM operations, and how in some locales the weather has enough of an adverse effect on air taxi services that their application could be placed in jeopardy. In general, cities in the Western United States had favorably weather, with the exception of impacts due to potential low visibility, high temperatures, and strong surface winds during summer thunderstorms. Cities like San Francisco suffer during the summer mornings when low-lying fog banks generate IFR conditions.
In the Eastern United States, storms and low visibility are the primary limiting factors, especially during summer afternoons. In areas such as Texas, low level wind shear, high temperatures, and storms have large impact potential to UAM operations, storms in the summer, and low visibility in the winter. While the summary did not expound further, expect more details in the full report – and also an overview of just how much the TAM may be reduced by seasonal weather shifts.
A Monte Carlo analysis was performed under a range of constraints to determine max usabilities – constraints involving customer’s willingness to pay, infrastructure limited, time of day limited, weather limited, and unconstrained scenarios. After performing these analyses, it was determined that only ~0.5% of unconstrained trips were captured after all other constraints were applied. This figure translates the $500 Billion as mentioned originally to the $2.5 Billion TAM. While the UAM market itself provides a lucrative magnitude of TAM, it is not without competitors – such as autonomous cars.
Additionally, analyses were conducted to determine the cost of air ambulance transports. After 10,000 iterations of this analysis, the estimated cost for an average trip was $9,000 for an eVTOL, and $9,800 for a hybrid – compared to $10,000 for that of a conventional helicopter transport. While there is a potential cost savings and practical benefit to eVTOLS as air ambulances (potential lives saved) the operational proficiency for eVTOLs will require time to establish – time that helicopters have had to demonstrate their applicability in situations that require extreme consistency. Another important consideration is the return time for an eVTOL, which is much higher than helicopters. While helicopters can be fueled with Jet-A in a matter of minutes, the charging technology for eVTOL’s is still not completely matured.
The best case scenario for air shuttle and air ambulance services includes a TAM of $500 Billion. In the near term, 5-seat eVTOL’s will cost ~$6.25 per passenger mile to operate. The high cost of infrastructure (and the current availability of infrastructure) are both large hurdles to overcome. Legal and regulatory analysis found that the air taxi, air ambulance, and air shuttle markets all face similar barriers. Additionally, psychological analysis and market surveys have proven that the general public is much more likely to board a piloted aircraft than an autonomous one. Finally, weather is a larger influencer in the applicability of air shuttle services than the industry has previously considered.
Why it’s Important: The joint Executive Summary between NASA and Booz Allen Hamilton has underscored many of the points made by numerous other consulting studies – but it also includes new considerations that will be important for the future development of the UAM industry, including the effects of return time for air ambulance operations and the effects of weather on all three markets. Stay tuned for the release of the full study and increased details on each of the topics addressed in the executive summary. The study emphasizes that a market of $2.5 billion may be reached in the short term (even after all the constraints are applied to market modeling) which is a large enough magnitude to continue to sustain the level of interest and dedication toward making this industry commercially operational in about five years.
After its recent Urban Air Mobility Industry Day November 1st-2nd, NASA has announced its partnership with NextNav, a three dimensional mapping software.Unlike most traditional location services, maps by NextNav offer vertical accuracy as well as traditional GPS positioning. NASA plans to utilize NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) as part of its testing efforts at its research center in Langley Virginia....
After its recent Urban Air Mobility Industry Day November 1st-2nd, NASA has announced its partnership with NextNav, a three dimensional mapping software.Unlike most traditional location services, maps by NextNav offer vertical accuracy as well as traditional GPS positioning. NASA plans to utilize NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) as part of its testing efforts at its research center in Langley Virginia.
NASA’s research center in Langley is named CERTAIN–City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation. This space is designed to test all varieties of vertical lift technologies ranging from delivery drones to passenger air taxis.
NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System also makes itself unique by offering vehicle tracking in areas where GPS signal may not be available. The software itself is built around safely and reliably managing urban air mobility operations. The 3D geolocation location service also offers unique visualization of airspaces.
Rather than through satellites as with GPS, the NextNav Metropolitan Beacon System works through a series of transmitting beacons strategically positioned around urban areas to give a level of accuracy and reliability that GPS cannot provide:
While NextNav provides technology for geolocation, other companies like AirMap aim to provide air space management software for future urban air mobility infrastructure. AirMap, is a Santa Monica based startup which has raised $26 million in Series B funding and has been selected as the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) provider for the U.S’s first drone corridor. The company has been providing flight planning services for recreational and commercial drone operators since its founding in 2014.
Why it’s important: As NASA further builds its repertoire of technologies, urban air mobility services become closer and closer to reality. Although the FAA provides final certification for aircraft, NASA has been a driving force behind developing safety standards for these technologies. While CERTAIN may only run tests on UAV vehicles, testing on passenger VTOLs is not far behind.
They’re Great for Cars, But Not so Much Urban Aviation Over the last 20 years, batteries have been one of the slowest developed hardware components in the world. Solar power, advanced materials, and next generation manufacturing processes have all sparked new business and provided the technological momentum to create new industries. All but the battery. In order for the Urban...
They’re Great for Cars, But Not so Much Urban Aviation
Over the last 20 years, batteries have been one of the slowest developed hardware components in the world. Solar power, advanced materials, and next generation manufacturing processes have all sparked new business and provided the technological momentum to create new industries. All but the battery. In order for the Urban Air Mobility industry to accomplish the major tenet of environmental sustainability, battery tech needs to catch up. So why the lag? And how have companies like Tesla and Faraday Future been able to bring their products to market despite the challenges that battery technology provides?
The Current State of Battery Technology
To understand why the Urban Air Mobility industry is still 10 years from being completely electric, the current state of battery technology should be understood. The key metric for any battery is energy density – the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume. The higher the density, the smaller the battery required for a certain amount of energy, or the more energy that can be stored in the same amount of space. To “optimize” battery tech, energy density must be maximized. However, unlike Moore’s law (in which processor power, or components per function, increases exponentially with time) battery energy density has seen a meager 3% increase in energy density year over year.
Just 3% in Energy Density Increase Per Year.
There are a couple types of batteries that have widespread application – Lithium Ion and Alkaline. While Alkaline is used in virtually all household batteries, its energy density is much lower than that of the Lithium Ion batteries (by about 200x) – but Alkaline batteries are much safer than Li-Ion batteries, which have a nasty habit of being impossible to extinguish should they combust. Most electric transportation applications require a large amount of energy, and so virtually all use Li-Ion batteries to take advantage of the greater energy density while accepting the safety risk. But, Li-Ion energy density is still too low; the required density for flying transportation modes is much higher than driving applications because weight is at a premium.
Surely the world can do better – so why haven’t we?
Similar Industries: Tesla & Trucks
Tesla (and more recently Faraday Future) have been able to market electric vehicles effectively because they’ve capitalized on Lithium Ion batteries with energy densities reported to be around 900Wh/L, or 250 Wh/kg.  For reference, an Alkaline AA battery holds about 4 Wh of energy  with a corresponding energy density of 700Wh/L. While this comparison illustrates how much higher the energy density of Li-Ion batteries is compared to that of Alkaline batteries, the quantity of energy required for an electric vehicle is still staggering. A Tesla Model S boasts fast acceleration and performance, but what many fail to realize is that the vehicle itself weighs almost 1,000 lbs more than any similar sedan with an internal combustion engine (mostly due to battery weight). 900 Wh/L is “good enough” for road applications because higher weights are acceptable. However, an electric vehicle in flight demands the minimum weight possible. How much farther must energy density be increased for batteries to become a practical source of aerial energy? The answer is simple: a comparable power to a Tesla Model S is required, but at 80% of the current weight of the Tesla battery packs (which is about 1,200lbs) – more on how we arrived at that figure later. For comparison, the Volocopter weighs 996 lbs – less than the total weight of the Tesla battery packs. Fortunately, the Volocopter (and other UAM solutions) require less than 1,200 lbs, or 85kWh, of power, but weight is still at an absolute premium.
Before we address this ultimate goal of the feasibility of battery power in the urban aviation industry, we’ll turn to a different industry that’s familiar to many: consumer drones.
The Drone Industry
One hybrid industry that provides a bridge between aviation and electric transportation is the recreational drone industry. Drones are little more than battery packs with any number of brushless electric motors powering small propellers at each corner of the device; oftentimes four are used to aid in stability. UAM solutions are much larger and more complex – but the physics of the energy required to stay aloft remain the same in both cases. For instance, the DJI Mavic Pro weighs 734g and can stay aloft for 31 minutes using a 46Wh battery, which is a typical capacity for a small drone. To condense these statistics into one comparable unit, like kg/Wh, we get 0.03. This number doesn’t mean much on its own, but if the weight of the aircraft is multiplied by the time aloft desired, a rough estimate of the total energy required may be obtained.
An important note – using different propeller sizes and energy conservation assumptions will yield different quantities of energy required; this is just a simplified first principles approach.
The UAM Industry
So how much power would a vehicle like the Volocopter require to fly for one hour? Using the kg/Wh factor of 0.03 to solve for this figure the Volocopter would conservatively need 14kWh of power. Remember back to the Tesla example – the Model S batteries have a capacity of 85kWh (6 times greater than that of the Volocopter) but at a weight of 1,200lbs. So if the Model S batteries were removed and 1/6th of the cores were installed on a UAM, they would represent a 200lb weight – which is more than 20% of the weight of the entire aircraft.
This 20% figure doesn’t sound high, but when you compare the energy in that 200lbs of weight (14kWh or 50.3 Megajoules) to the energy stored in 200lbs of Jet-A (4126 Megajoules) it quickly becomes apparent that Jet-A has prevailed for so many years because of its extremely high energy content.
But this doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for batteries to be “good enough”. Fortunately, aerodynamic innovations mean that matching the energy density of Jet-A is not required; batteries can do good enough with their own lower energy density, and with the added benefit of zero emissions, which is a huge win over Jet-A fuel. The magical 80% figure mentioned in the first comparison of Tesla batteries’ applicability to the UAM industry is critical because, in general, a 20% weight reduction of the battery pack alone would free up enough weight for additional energy storage, baggage capacity, or avionics and flight hardware. This would reduce the 200lb Volocopter battery to 160lbs (or just 16% of the total weight of the aircraft) and would allow energy density to scale to the third power since the reduction in volume for a reduction of weight is not linearly proportional. The 20% reduction, or 80% capacity rule is a benchmark to chase.
How realistic would it be to achieve this reduction in weight; this increase in energy density? At the current rate of battery technology advancement, about 7 years. Is this soon enough? Many would say yes, but the bigger concern is not being addressed: how long will it take battery technology to achieve 30% and 40% reductions, or progress to the point where the energy capacity of Jet-A is challenged? The next 7 years will be a true barometer of success, and small scale demonstrations of battery technology in people-carrying Urban Air Mobility situations will help increase the general awareness of the advantages of electric aerial transportation. Eventually the time will come for more than 3% per year, but only once a larger audience realizes the potential benefit.
The goal of Rensselaer’s latest research center is to pursue cutting-edge research in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft technologies. Earlier this month, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) held a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Uber Elevate Director of Engineering Mark Moore, as well as representatives from Terrafugia, Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Bell. While the opening of RPI MOVE...
The goal of Rensselaer’s latest research center is to pursue cutting-edge research in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft technologies.
Earlier this month, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) held a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Uber Elevate Director of Engineering Mark Moore, as well as representatives from Terrafugia, Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Bell.
While the opening of RPI MOVE is partly driven by interest in vertical lift technologies from the Department of Defense, the director of the new center Farhan Gandhi higlights the “tremendous buzz” around eVTOLs. Ghandi believes that the use of distributed electric propulsion, as well as autonomous operation could “completely change the mobility paradigm.”
MOVE has already acquired 21 Ph.D. students and is working on projects having to do with VTOL aeromechanics, multi-copters, advanced VTOL configurations, control and autonomy, flying qualities, diagnostics and structural health monitoring, computational fluid dynamics, experimental aerodynamics, nano-materials, and design optimization.
In short, RPI MOVE is designed to be an innovation hub producing students with unique technological knowledge for VTOLS and a wide range of innovative VTOL projects.
RPI has already started releasing educational material, including the “Dawn of eVTOL” speech by Mark Moore, the “The Electric VTOL Revolution” kickoff presentation from the Vertical Flight Society , and the “Electric VTOL: Current Status & Technical Challenges” panel featuring representatives from Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, Terrafugia, and Bell.
Why it’s important: The creation of the RPI MOVE center speaks to the future growth of the eVTOL industry. As more and more eVTOL developers begin to emerge, there will be more and more demand for graduates with expertise in Vertical Lift. Rensselaer has recognized this by forming MOVE.
The Lilium air taxi is getting closer to market. It recently hired Mirko Reuter, former head of Automated Driving at Audi, Jakob Waeschenbach, former head of Equipment Installation at Airbus, and Rochus Moenter, former Vice President of Finance and Leasing at Airbus. Lilium is a German company based out of Munich. Its air taxi design is one of the sleekest on the market, and...
The Lilium air taxi is getting closer to market. It recently hired Mirko Reuter, former head of Automated Driving at Audi, Jakob Waeschenbach, former head of Equipment Installation at Airbus, and Rochus Moenter, former Vice President of Finance and Leasing at Airbus.
Lilium is a German company based out of Munich. Its air taxi design is one of the sleekest on the market, and with over $90 million in funding achieved just last year, its well on its way to being one of the world’s first on demand air taxis.
Mirko Reuter, the new Head of Autonomous Flight at Lilium, was formerly the Head of Automated Driving at Audi. There, he led the development of all automated driving functions, as well as the development of vehicle platforms technologies and future vehicle concepts. At Lilium, he will be responsible for the process of developing the technologies necessarily to bring autonomous flights completely to market.
Jakob Waeschenbach, formerly the Head of Equipment Installation at Airbus, will be the new Head of Aircraft Assembly at Lilium. Waeschenbach spent years at Airbus ensuring quality in manufacturing, engineering, logistics, supply chain and finance. He also developed Airbus’s new and certified production line of the Single Aisle Family of aircraft. At Lilium, he will “lead the convergence between aircraft and automotive production”, and will assist in establish Lilium’s first production facility.
Lilium will also be adding Roechus Moenter, who was the former Vice President of Airbus’s Finance and Leasing Group. Moenter will be the General Counsel and Head of Legal for Lilium.
The company is unique in that it plans to be a direct competitor to UberAir. Like Uber Elevate, it plans to roll out its services in 2025. Unlike many of the current eVTOL developers on the market, Lilium has not sought to become a partner for Uber, and instead has opted to develop its own operations and front-end service. Potential routes are Manhattan to JFK and Paris to London.
As a reminder, the Lilium is a eVTOL featuring tilted duct-fans that can travel at speeds up to 300km/h with a 300km range. It’s design features a total of 18 integrated jet engines that can seamlessly transition from horizontal to Vertical flight. Lilium completed it’s maiden flight in April 2017, and Lilium plans to complete it’s first manned test flight in 2019. Read more about the Lilium eVTOL.
Why it’s important:
With this major hire from two big players in vehicle innovation and production, Lilium further marks it’s place as main competitor for air taxi services. With Uber as one of the other biggest companies in the space, Lilium needs to be doing everything it can to put itself at the forefront of the industry, as conveyed by Lilium CEO and co-founder:
“To bring the best talent to Lilium has always been our goal. We are delighted to welcome such a high calibre of new team members that will bring a wealth of expertise in key strategic areas to our growing company and further enable our vision.”