Last week when we attended the Amsterdam drone week, we ran into the CTO of Volocopter, Jan Hendrik Boelens, who was there to talk about mobility as a service. We made sure to catch up with him, talk about the latest company news, and clarify some of the questions about the Volocopter as well as its port and hub infrastructure. For those already familiar with Volocopter, I suggest you dive straight into our interview video.
For those unaware, Volocopter is a one of the best known electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle companies out there. Its product, which is also called the Volocopter, is a huge step forward in the field. Rather than have just one big rotor like a helicopter, the Volocopter makes use of 18 electrically powered rotors that helps it achieve record low flight volume. How quiet, you might ask? Well, it is actually so quiet that when flying in a busy city it’s completely inaudible.
The Germany-based company started in 2011 with a very unusual prototype that served as a proof of concept. The company has since raised over $89 million in funding and has developed multiple awesome-looking prototypes that have flown countless times in tests and demonstrations. Just recently Volocopter has released its latest iteration that they are calling the Volocity, which is the version they hope to go to market with in a few years.
Being one of the big names in the eVTOL space, Volocopter has also put a lot of effort into designing and creating an infrastructure around the vehicle. When it comes to eVTOLs there are 3 major segments, the vehicle, the service, and autonomy. There are more than 100 eVTOL startups at various stages of development and funding levels, but besides Volocopter there are very few companies actually working on the infrastructure, also known as mobility as a service (MaaS). A well known example is Uber Air, a part of Uber that is developing the infrastructure while creating partnerships with companies like Jaunt Mobility and EmbraerX.
While Uber Air promises to start its service in 2023, in practice it appears to be far behind Volocopter, and the mere fact that it has multiple vehicle partners already makes it somewhat impractical. Volocopter, on the other hand, has very concrete plans on how to create high density air traffic routes and integrate it into a city. The various ports and hubs it designed enable the company to autonomously swap batteries and load new passengers very quickly, like a well oiled gondola lift. The concept is truly impressive.
Depending on expected traffic, a port or hub can accommodate anything from 100 passengers per hour to more than 1000, in which case vehicles are expected to take off from and land on multiple pads every 30 seconds or so.
The Volocopter’s ingeniously simple yet redundant vehicle design will make certification of the vehicle (which is a truly critical component) much simpler, and when the company says that the vehicles will go into service within 2 to 3 years, we actually believe it.
That would still require pilots, however, since as we already learned from Daedalean, one of the few companies that is actually developing flight autonomy and which has coincidentally already done some testing in conjunction with Volocopter, it will take until 2025 at the very least, but could take all the way until 2030. Nonetheless, there is a very specific argument about car autonomy that is also applicable here. The world is a big place, and at least one country will be open to being the first to certify and legalize ‘Air Taxis’, after which many countries will follow suit.
As a matter of fact, Volocopter just received its “Design Organization Approval” from the European aviation and safety agency (EASA), so make sure to also check out our upcoming interview with its executive Director Patrick Ky (on the right side in the image below). As Volocopter stated in its press release on December 9th, this makes the company the “first eVTOL startup on record to receive DOA with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) as scope of work worldwide.”
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