The drone taxis are com­ing

Around the world, com­pa­nies are vy­ing to be the first to fly peo­ple in au­ton­o­mous air­craft

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VIJOEN

WHEELS has been pre­dict­ing drones that can fly up to two peo­ple over ci­ties will be­come the next big dis­rup­tor in trans­port faster than even we ex­pect.

Be­cause drones that can be hailed to fly us 30 km away is as close as hu­mans will get to tele­por­ta­tion. Now Ger­man com­pany Volo­copter has added more flesh to this pre­dic­tion.

Volo­copter cur­rently leads the big drone race to de­velop elec­tri­cal ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing mul­ti­copters (eVTOL) as au­ton­o­mous air taxis for the safe trans­port of peo­ple.

The com­pany last week pre­sented its plans to fly 100 000 peo­ple an hour in air taxis high above big ci­ties at prices the com­pany pre­dicts “won’t be sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive than tak­ing a cab”.

Volo­copter’s vi­sion in­te­grates air taxis into ex­ist­ing trans­porta­tion sys­tems and pro­vides ad­di­tional mo­bil­ity for up to 10 000 passengers per day with a sin­gle point-to-point con­nec­tion.

Co-founder Alex Zosel said in a state­ment he ex­pects the first full Volo­copter air taxi sys­tems with dozens of Volo-Hubs and Volo-Ports to be in place by 2028, ca­pa­ble of fly­ing 100 000 passengers an hour to their de­sired des­ti­na­tion.

Volo­copters are emis­sion­free, elec­tri­cally pow­ered air­craft that take off and land ver­ti­cally of­fer­ing a high de­gree of safety based on full re­dun­dancy in all crit­i­cal sys­tems.

The Ger­man com­pany has shown re­peat­edly that Volo­copters fly safely, first in Dubai and then in Las Ve­gas at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show (CES).

At the event, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich be­came the very first pas­sen­ger in a Volo­copter in the U.S.

“That was fan­tas­tic. That was the best flight I have ever had. Every­body will fly one of these some­day,” said Krzanich af­ter com­plet­ing the flight.

Ecosys­tem of air taxis

Florian Reuter, CEO at Volo­copter, said the group’s ambitions do not end with de­vel­op­ing the air­craft, but con­tinue to “de­velop the en­tire ecosys­tem mak­ing air taxi ser­vices a re­al­ity across the world”.

This in­cludes the phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture to man­age un­manned sys­tems.

The pre­sented con­cept de­fines the in­fra­struc­ture nec­es­sary to op­er­ate and scale an air taxi ser­vice into a full net­work sys­tem span­ning over mega ci­ties.

It con­sists of Volo-Hubs and Volo-Ports.

The Volo-Hubs re­sem­ble cable cart sta­tions with Volo­copters land­ing and tak­ing off ev­ery 30 sec­onds for ex­am­ple. Once landed the Volo­copter is moved in­side the Volo-Hub. Passengers alight the air­craft pro­tected from wind and weather.

Bat­tery packs will be swapped au­to­mat­i­cally in a pro­tected area by ro­bots be­fore mov­ing on to the sec­tion where passengers em­bark for take-off.

Volo-Hubs are the key to sub­stan­tially in­crease the ca­pac­ity of any Volo­copter sys­tem.

Aside from pro­tected de­board­ing and em­bark­ing, they of­fer suf­fi­cient space to park all Volo­copters in op­er­a­tion and pro­vide the in­fra­struc­ture for charg­ing and main­te­nance.

Volo-Ports on ev­ery mall

Volo-Ports ex­pand the VoloHub sys­tem and of­fer di­rect ac­cess to a com­pany, shop­ping mall, ho­tel or train sta­tion for ex­am­ple.

They do not re­quire any charg­ing or park­ing in­fra­struc­ture and sub­se­quently will be less com­plex to build.

Any Heli­ports can be used as a Volo-Port with min­i­mal mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

“We ex­pect any air taxi trans­port sys­tem to be­gin with a point to point con­nec­tion and over time grow into a sys­tem of dozens of Volo-Hubs in a city.” says Alex Zosel, co-founder of Volo­copter.

“Once op­er­ated at scale, fly­ing won’t be sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive than tak­ing a cab, but it will be sig­nif­i­cantly faster.”

The com­pany fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing their air­crafts specif­i­cally for in­ner city mis­sions. Volo­copter fea­tures an ex­tremely sta­ble flight al­low­ing it to ma­noeu­vre mi­cro tur­bu­lences around sky­scrapers thus of­fer­ing a smooth ride for passengers.

Inaudi­ble from 100 m away

It has an agree­able sound sig­na­ture and is so quiet that from 100 m away, it will not be heard over the back­ground noise of a typ­i­cal city.

As it is elec­tri­cally pow­ered, it is emis­sion-free in flight.

Both noise and pol­lu­tion are para­mount con­sid­er­a­tions to achiev­ing pub­lic ac­cep­tance of any new trans­port sys­tem.

The tech­ni­cal plat­form is ex­tremely flex­i­ble and per­mits pi­loted, remote con­trolled, and fully au­ton­o­mous flight.

In ad­di­tion, the unique de­sign of­fers un­prece­dented de­grees of safety based on the high level of re­dun­dancy in all crit­i­cal com­po­nents.

As early as 2011 the com­pany earned its en­try into the his­tory of avi­a­tion through the manned flight of the world’s first purely elec­tri­cal mul­ti­copter.

Volo­copter mile­stones:

In 2016 Volo­copter was granted pro­vi­sional li­cens­ing for a twoseater Volo­copter by the Ger­man avi­a­tion author­ity.

In 2017 the avi­a­tion start-up show­cased the first ever au­ton­o­mous flight of an air taxi in co­op­er­a­tion with RTA Dubai. In the mean­time, the founders Stephan Wolf and Alexan­der Zosel have gath­ered a team of ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers like CEO Florian Reuter and CTO Jan-Hen­drik. Daim­ler, Intel and Lukasz Gad­owski are among the in­vestors in the com­pany.

PHOTO: VOLO­COPTER

An artist’s im­pres­sion of one of Ger­man com­pany Volvo­copter’s au­ton­o­mous drones fly­ing to a he­li­pad built high over a city’s clogged roads.

PHOTO: eHANG

Chi­nese com­pany eHang is al­ready test­ing a singe-seat eight-ro­tor drone plat­form in Dubai as well as China.

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