How Cars Will Learn to Fly
“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.
“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
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.
“The question is not whether flying taxis are coming, but when.”
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 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.”
“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
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.”
Photos: Bosch Mobility Solutions, Fraport