How Cars Will Learn to Fly

Bosch has been active as a supplier to the global automotive industry for well over a century, and in the aviation industry too for more than a decade with its subsidiary General Aviation Technology. Now, the technology group is aiming to enter the future market of flying electric taxis.
When developing aircraft taxis, Bosch relies on experience and proven technology from the automotive industry.
Gliding over traffic jams and through skyscraper gorges – this is Marcus Parentis’ vision. He is the head of the technology team at Bosch that is already working on control units for electrically powered small aircraft of the future. “With our solution, we aim to make civil aviation with air taxis affordable for lots of providers,” he explains.

“In large cities, the first air taxis will be taking off by 2023 at the latest,” Parentis’ boss Harald Kröger is convinced. First and foremost, Kröger, board member with responsibility for the Automotive Electronics division, has in mind aircraft for so-called ‘electric vertical take-off and landing’, or eVTOLS for short. “Bosch aims to help shape this future market as a provider,” says Kröger. He has discovered a real gap in the market – conventional aviation technology is far too expensive, too large, and too heavy to be used in autonomous aircraft taxis. Modern sensors, also used for autonomous driving or the ESP skid protection system in motor vehicles, could close this gap.

Marcus Parentis, head of the technology team in the Automotive Electronics division at Bosch

“I dare say we will be flying autonomously before we are driving autonomously. After all, the traffic situation in the air is clearer than on the road – for example, there are no construction sites.”

Marcus Parentis, head of the technology team in the Automotive Electronics division at Bosch

Just like in the movie “Blade Runner 2049”, the flying taxis of the future will take off and land vertically. They will then fly back and forth between special platforms, or hubs, in fixed flight corridors almost 400 meters above the ground. “In the initial phase, there will still be human pilots behind the wheel, but they will be replaced relatively quickly by autonomous flight systems,” says Parentis. “I dare say we will be flying autonomously before we are driving autonomously. After all, the traffic situation in the air is clearer than on the road – for example, there are no construction sites.”

However, Parentis does not believe that private aircraft will catch on in the coming years: “The trend in the automotive industry and in the development of urban aircraft is towards shared mobility.” As soon as the infrastructure is in place, passengers in an air taxi could “presumably fly for prices comparable to those of a normal taxi,” he predicts optimistically. Even for a distance of just ten kilometers, air taxis could offer a time advantage over today’s transport modes.

Bosch uses proven automotive technology for air taxis.
It is therefore important for suppliers to offer reliable technology at low cost. According to Parentis, a conventional aviation sensor solution, for example, costs between several tens of thousands and one hundred thousand euros, which has a massive effect on the price of an air taxi ride. “And this is exactly where our MEMS sensor box comes into play. With this solution, we are aiming to do our part to make taxi aviation affordable for everyone,” says Parentis. MEMS stands for ‘microelectromechanical systems’, which were developed by Bosch for the automotive industry over 25 years ago and are still in production today.
Bosch wants to shape the aviation taxi market as a supplier.

“The question is not whether flying taxis are coming, but when.”

This universal control unit with its tried and tested sensors is intended to ensure that the position and flight attitude of flying taxis can be determined at any time and that they can be controlled precisely and safely by means of acceleration and rotation rate sensors. These sensors record all movements and tilt angles of the aircraft – at a fraction of the cost of commercial aviation with large aircraft. According to Parentis, manufacturers of air taxis should be able to easily integrate the Bosch sensor box into their aircraft according to the plug & play principle.

In any case, he is absolutely convinced of the growing market opportunities: “We are already in discussions with air taxi manufacturers from the aviation and automotive industries, as well as with start-ups that want to build aircraft and offer sharing services. The question is not whether flying taxis are coming, but when.”

Fraport conducts research with Volocopter on the subject of air taxis.

Fraport is Conducting Research on Flying Taxis With Volocopter

Dr Pierre Dominique Prümm thinks the same. Since 1 July 1 2019, he has been on the executive board of Fraport AG with responsibility for flight operations and terminal management, corporate security and central infrastructure management – and thus also for air taxis. “There is definitely a certain hype around air taxis, but there is something to it. There is an interest and a demand – and that is driven by the realization that all our existing modes of transport are steadily reaching their limits.”

Dr Pierre Dominique Prümm, member of the executive board of Fraport AG

“Ground processes are part of every flight, and we have a lot of experience in this field as infrastructure service providers, which the air taxi companies lack.”

Dr Pierre Dominique Prümm

Together with the German start-up Volocopter, Fraport now wants to explore the opportunities offered by the new aircraft and establish itself as an operator of air taxi ‘stations’. “We have a great deal of expertise to contribute here,” says Prümm: “Volocopter concentrates on the technology, booking and billing of flights. But ground processes are part of every flight, and here we have a lot of experience as infrastructure service providers, which Volocopter and other air taxi companies lack.

They have been collaborating since the beginning of 2019. One of their goals is to launch prototype flights in Frankfurt and later in the rest of Germany too, in order to explore both the challenges and the opportunities. “In addition, we want to clarify the strategic and conceptual question of how the processes at such an airport taxi station should be designed,” says Prümm. Possible tasks for Fraport might include charging or replacing batteries, security checks and cleaning. “For drones, these processes are perhaps even more complex than for aircraft.”

Prümm also sees potential for air taxis beyond Frankfurt. “We have a lot of experience abroad, so we can also export the operation of air taxi stations to other countries.” The executive board are also leveraging Fraport’s locational advantage. After all, a traffic system like this would not be possible without infrastructure. “This shows what a central position we have as airport operators if air taxis become marketable. The winners will be those who have customer data and offer mobility platforms, and those who have the infrastructure, since it is only built once at a given location.”

Text by Behrend Oldenburg
Photos: Bosch Mobility Solutions, Fraport