Come fly with me—in cars
The rise of megacities all over the world—along with the expansion of existing large cities—is putting an increasing amount of pressure on road networks. At some point in the near future there will be no option but to change the way we live, work, and/or travel. If the maximum capacity for space on the road is reached, then the only way is up.
Fortunately, there is a growing industry that encapsulates air taxis, flying cars, and other forms of personal air transportation. One of the companies rolling out an ambitious jet-based plan is Lilium.
“We all want to move, but at the moment we are not moving far because of gridlock—which extends between the cities, not just within the city itself,” said Remo Gerber, Lilium’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Because the cities are sometimes up to 50 km wide, it can be very difficult to develop an entirely new infrastructure that is fast, has high throughput, and that connects different places.”
He stated that, in some high-speed transportation networks, the investment can be as high as $30 to $40 million a kilometer, adding that there are also the environmental—as well as the financial—costs to consider.
The Lilium Jet is “a completely different way at looking at mobility,” says Gerber. The fully electric aircraft can transport up to four passengers and a pilot and has a maximum range of 300 km (186 mi), a distance that can be covered in one hour. When cruising, the jet travels at an altitude of around 800 m (2600 ft).
The jet is powered by 36 all-electric engines with a specific ducted design to minimize noise. Gerber says that from 100 m (330 ft) away, the jet has the same level of noise as that of a helicopter in the distance.
The engines have also been engineered to limit vibrations for a smooth—as well as quiet—ride. With zero emissions and optimized power-to-weight and thrust-to-noise ratios, the engines are the first of their kind to achieve commercial certification.
“We are creating a transportation system that doesn’t need tracks or roads or anything else on the ground because we can connect individual points,” Gerber explained. “In May 2019, we flew the first prototype—a full-scale model built over two years and engineered from scratch at the company headquarters near Munich, Germany. The aircraft has been designed to take off vertically and then fly forwards because as soon as you fly forwards you use more energy.”
When it comes to infrastructure, Gerber talked about creating something that meets the needs and suits the size of the community: “If you take a train from, say, Boston to Washington, you have to have a single dimensional transportation. But if you have 16 points within the aviation network, every point begins connecting to the other ones and you get connectivity that goes square to the number or points that you have.”
There are obvious time benefits compared with ground transportation, but Gerber also highlighted energy cost advantages.
“To travel 300 km in the aircraft, you spend €6 ($6.50) per person in energy costs,” he explained. “Compared with cars, it would be €40 ($43) and in a helicopter €110 ($110) in fuel costs alone. Even versus electric cars the Lilium Jet costs are lower, and that’s translated into lower operational CO2 emissions than ground transportation.”
The latest stage on the company’s journey saw the company secure an extra $240 million from an internal funding round, which will be used to support development work and prepare for production at the company’s new manufacturing site. Christopher Delbrück, Chief Financial Officer, stated: “The new funds will enable us to take big strides toward our shared goal of delivering regional air mobility as early as 2025.”
Traditional car manufacturers are also reacting to the potential advantages of urban air mobility (UAM) by recruiting and investing accordingly. In one of the most recent developments, Hyundai announced the appointment of J. Scott Drennan as Vice President of the company’s UAM division.
Leading research and development on the topic for Hyundai, Drennan has more than 25 years of experience with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, such as the V-22, AW609, and V-280. The recruitment of someone of Drennan’s caliber reinforces Hyundai’s desire to become a leader in UAM for the future.
“I am honored to contribute to Hyundai’s vision of future mobility,” said Drennan. “Since my childhood, I have dreamed of teaming with fellow engineers and designers to develop technological marvels. In our daily lives, we lose too much precious time in traffic congestion. I want to give that time back to people through safe, accessible, and sustainable vertical mobility.”
“We are fortunate to have Scott join our UAM Division,” said Jaiwon Shin, Executive Vice President and head of UAM division. “Leveraging his vast experience in the VTOL and UAM fields, he will lead the engineering development to turn our vision of urban air mobility into a reality, transforming our life styles for many decades to come.”
This vision aims to provide innovative smart mobility solutions to address ever-increasing traffic congestion in megacities around the world that suffer economic and environmental tolls due to lost productivity and air pollution.
Hyundai has previously shown its intention with a concept personal air vehicle (PAV)—model S-A1—that was built in collaboration with Uber Elevate, as Uber and Hyundai agreed to work together in the aerial ridesharing field.