Airspeeders, eVTOLs, and Flying Cars Are Not Science Fiction Anymore.
Motorsport series Airspeeder has just announced a partnership with data giant Acronis to turn flying racing cars into a reality. Aided by artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors, their Airspeeder GP is planned for 2021 and promises to massively grow the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) technology sector.
Acronis is known, among other things, as the company in charge of securing performance data for Formula One, Formula E, and Premier League Football teams. With headquarters in Switzerland and Singapore, Acronis shares Airspeeder’s philosophy: Nothing accelerates technical progress like a sporting competition.
The partners want to become pioneers in what has been deemed the next generation of sports — just like Formula One did nearly a century ago.
Their racing speeders are expected to drive technical development and create public acceptance for a new mobility revolution. However, they are not alone.
The $2.3 billion figure represents an estimate of what the options could be worth, depending on if he manages to meet the company’s ambitious performance goals, and on how Tesla’s stock prices evolve over the next decade.
LiDAR and Machine Vision
Acronis and Airspeeder are counting on LiDAR and machine vision to deliver close, but safe racing through the creation of force-fields around each aircraft, or “speeder.” Acronis’s cyber solutions are also assured to generate incredible amounts of data that can improve safety and provide pilots with real-time analysis of their performance.
The development of LiDAR for commercial use is relatively new. First introduced for military targeting and meteorology, it’s only in the last decade that the sensors became cheap enough for LiDAR to be adopted more widely.
The technology uses 3D point clouds to measure distance and spectral data and is currently deployed in drones for 3D mapping, surveying, topology, and mining, among others. LiDAR can enable real-time scanning of distances, even in the dark, and is great for obstacle detection — in particular upon landing.
Other advances are also rapidly bringing flying cars to the present. The Swiss startup Daedalean AG currently focuses on a subset of convolutional neural networks especially powerful for image recognition. Partnered with Honeywell to develop a fully autonomous artificial intelligence pilot for General Aviation and Urban Air Mobility, Daedalean believes their vision-based flight control systems will outperform humans and become certifiable in the near term.
Morgan Stanley has predicted that the eVTOL sector could reach a worth of $1.5 trillion by 2040. Additionally, according to new research from MarketsandMarkets, the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 20.42%.
The industry has been widely dubbed as “flying electric taxis,” and is expected to be the cause of a great mobility revolution. Several companies like Uber, Airbus, Hyundai, and Daimler are all working on developing flying cars.
Uber’s Elevate program, which hopes to provide commercial on-demand air taxi services by 2023, is working with Bell, EmbraerX, and Karem Aircraft to begin testing their eVTOL fleets in Los Angeles, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Melbourne, Australia. Although their plans had to be postponed due to COVID, Elevate vehicles could see city skies as early as 2020.
The first flying taxis will most likely only be driven by licensed pilots and cost up to USD 600,000, but they are designed to be ride-sharing aircraft rather than owned individually.
The Flying Cars Market
In August 2020, a Japanese company called SkyDrive announced the first public demonstration of its flying car. The vehicle, a small electric eVTOL, consists of eight motors that rotate individually. This feature makes the aircraft much safer in emergency situations.
The UK recently unveiled its 5-person taxi VA-1X, too, another eight rotors aircraft with a 15 meters-wide (49 feet) wingspan. The VA-1X can cruise up to 241 km/h (150 mph) and uses a lithium-ion battery pack to give it a range of 161 kilometers (100 miles). This aircraft can land on helipads and is 30 times quieter than a helicopter. A prototype of the VA-1X is due to be tested in 2021.
A lot of the technology required to make flying vehicles a reality is already established. Multirotor drones have been taking off vertically and zooming horizontally for years, and lightweight batteries have evolved to be reliable. The only question that remains is how to carry passengers in a safe and regulated manner.
The first eVTOL aircraft will probably pick up cargo and passengers from, and to, urban helipads using automated pilotless pods. But other uses such as flying speeders are sure to follow quickly.
While the Asia-Pacific region has so far led the way for eVTOLs, Europe is quickly developing into a major market. Germany, France, Estonia, and Bulgaria are actively focused on facilitating cost-effective transportation by developing the eVTOL ecosystem. Governments are also betting on the technology: In April 2020, the USAF announced $25 million in funding for 2021 eVTOL projects.
The future looks bright for eVTOL aircraft. Not only can it provide a fascinating new type of sports entertainment, but it can also reduce traffic and noise pollution. Not to mention, who doesn’t want to take a flying taxi?