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Advanced Air Mobility Makes Waves at CES 2022
  • 09 Apr 2022 11:41 AM
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Advanced Air Mobility Makes Waves at CES 2022

By Nicolas Zart & Jim Sherman
Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2022

While many watched from home, eVTOL overshadowed the automotive displays and provided an opportunity for the public to see the future of air transport.

The Consumer Technology Association’s annual CES (previously the “Consumer Electronics Show”) was held Jan. 3–7 this year, at the peak of the COVID-19 Omicron spike. Like many large events in the past year, CES 2022 had a smaller-than-normal attendance. With many big automotive companies converting to virtual due to the pandemic, advanced air mobility received more attention, even without the splashy unveils of the Bell and Hyundai electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) concepts in previous years.

SkyDrive’s eVTOL Steals the Show

Regular Vertiflite contributor Nicolas Zart was invited by SkyDrive to support their CES launch and augmented the limited attendance of their team from Japan.

The SkyDrive booth saw a constant stream of eager visitors waiting in line to get into the company’s SD-03 eVTOL for a tantalizing feel of what it will be like to fly in this diminutive aircraft.

If you are not familiar with SkyDrive yet, the Japanese group near Tokyo is backed by the local district government and Toyota. Its stakeholders include Japanese companies and investors such as the Development Bank of Japan; NEC Corp.; Itochu Corp.; Itochu Technology Ventures; ENEOS Innovation Partners; Obayashi Corp.; Energy & Environment Investment; STRIVE; Z Corp.; Drone Fund; VeriServe Corp.; Sumitomo Mitsui Finance and Leasing Company.

SkyDrive receives a subsidy from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and Toyota City strongly supports the startup by providing it a development base.

In its original Cartivator concept (see “Electric VTOL News: SkyDrive,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2019), the team aimed at providing an air taxi experience that would morph into a real flying car. What is appealing about all SkyDrive aircraft, is that they won’t take up more space than a two-car parking spot. It is a real air taxi, as in it would come to where you are and rather than having to first travel to a vertiport. In this case, it’s much more of an “air taxi” than how the term is used in general.

So far, the SD-03 on display at CES 2022 carries one passenger. Both it and the other prototype have already gathered over 1,000 test flights.

SkyDrive CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa said, “The SD-03 is a prototype aircraft that is the culmination of our expertise in drone technology and aerodynamic engineering. It was very useful in collecting test data for the development of the next-generation SD-05 model. We will continue to develop SD-05 with the aim of obtaining type certification for it and having it available for everyone to ride at the Osaka-Kansai World Exposition in 2025.”

L-R: Huy Tran (NASA), Howard Kass (Lilium), Diana Marina Cooper (Supernal) and moderator Doug Johnson of CTA, on the AAM panel at CES 2022. (VFS)

SkyDrive CTO Nobuo Kishi noted, “SkyDrive is considering operating a shuttle service between the Osaka Bay area and the Expo site, as well as within the Expo site.”

This 10-minute flight will replace an otherwise 20–30 minute-long taxi ride.

SkyDrive’s vision for its urban air mobility (UAM) future is simple. Just like an Uber or Lyft ride, you hail their eVTOL, and it will land wherever there is enough space for two cars, before taking you directly to your final destination.

SkyDrive intends to make its eVTOL fully automated as soon as the technology is mature enough. First, however, a pilot will fly the next version, the two-seat SD-05 aircraft with a paying passenger anywhere for up to 10 minutes. And as battery technology improves energy density, those flights will last longer and cover greater distances.

Mark Blackwell, R&D Strategy Senior Manager at SkyDrive, said that SkyDrive has submitted its certification application to the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) — a division of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) and equivalent to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). SkyDrive is currently conducting a variety of tests to obtain type certification for the future aircraft. The UAM startup will spend the next three years testing reliability for the aircraft’s entrance for service by 2025.

MACA’s Racing H2eVTOL

France-based MACA is developing the world’s first hydrogen-powered flying racing car, the S11, and hopes racing will launch eVTOL into the forefront of public awareness. The company is headquartered in Aix en Provence (near Marseille) and is a 2020 spinout of an Airbus project. Thierry de Boisvillers, CEO and founder of MACA — a former French army aviation attack helicopter pilot, squadron leader and instructor — previously led Airbus Helicopters training, quality and marketing.

The company has also established MACA US, LLC, based in San Diego, California, led by Irina Pchelintceva as CEO.

At CES 2022, the company displayed a 1/7th-scale model of the S11, which caught the attention of many visitors, including the Wall Street Journal, which included it in its article, “The Best of CES 2022.” The full-scale, 23-ft (7-m) long demonstrator is planned to fly later this year.

The multi-copter configuration uses three pairs of 35 kW electric motors — each driving counter-rotating propellers — powered by hydrogen fuel cells. MACA plans to fly the hydrogen eVTOL (H2eVTOL) aircraft up to 135 kt (250 km/h) on closed racing courses, and eventually transition the company into the advanced air mobility (AAM) market.

ASKA Draws Crowds with Cockpit Simulator

ASKA’s exhibit saw a constant stream of attendees energized to try out the flying car simulator (also featured at the VFS Transformative Vertical Flight event, see “TVF2022: Vehicles and Volts,” Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2022).

Co-founder Guy Kaplinsky reviewed the performance of the vehicle and showed attendees the features of the vehicle’s features and let them drive and fly the vehicle in style. A few of the innovative features in the full-size ASKA cockpit simulator, which allowed attendees to try out the ability to both drive and fly with easy controls.

  • A joystick to fly, a steering wheel to drive
  • 55-inch (140-cm) dashboard with glass display, providing the visual data that pilots will see as they travel
  • Cameras offering 360° vision for driving, including an overhead camera for looking up during vertical takeoff, and a landing camera for looking downward during descent
  • A pilot panel with a vivid, graphical interface for navigational display
  • Console with vehicle functions, climate control and a design that minimizes distractions
  • Multimedia display for radio, music and video... and more!

CLROBUR Wins CES Award Again

This year, Incheon, South Korea-based CLROBUR received the CES Innovation Award for its DROWay, a 3D map-based urban air traffic management (UATM) technology.

The company’s DROWay is a platform equipped with diverse telecommunications protocols capable of tracking different kinds of drones developed by CLROBUR’s cloud-based AI technology. CLROBUR said that the web-based 3D/4D ground control platform should allow the company to offer UATM services with an infinite number of integrated and controlled autonomous flights.

CES Conference Sessions

VFS staff member Jim Sherman was invited to participate in the Connect2Car session titled: “Partnerships: Transforming Smart Cities and Transportation Innovation,” along with moderator Jim Misener of Qualcomm, Blaine Leonard from the Utah Department of Transportation, Madison White of Ricardo and Mark de la Vergne of Cavnue. The panel explored crosscutting technologies advancing transportation and the role of public funding in the development and implementation of these technologies. The panel highlighted that public-private partnerships can facilitate the adoption of key technologies for smart cities. Leonard noted that, “as a state agency, people often ask us why we are interested in automated vehicles, and the bottom line is safety. We lost 40,000 people to car crashes in 2020,” noting how 97% of all crashes are caused in some part by human error. “As an agency, our focus is zero –– we want to get to zero fatalities.”

Overall, the panel agreed that technology has the ability to reduce the fatalities on the road, and improve transportation as a whole by looking to the third dimension. This was an important lead-in to the next session.

Hyundai UAM subsidiary), along with moderator Doug Johnson of CTA, Howard Kass of Lilium and Huy Tran — Director of Aeronautics at NASA Ames Research Center — participated in a session, “Up and Away: The Advanced Air Mobility Future.” The panel discussed the numerous challenges facing the burgeoning eVTOL/AAM industry in great detail with an engaged audience. The panel closed with their vision of what benefits AAM can provide for society, including improving accessibility for all.

Women and Drones also celebrated its 5th Anniversary Women to Watch (WTW) in UAS Global Awards 2021 with a ceremony at CES. The drone industry, like aerospace in general, has few women. Women and Drones began the “Women to Watch” awards to recognize and elevate those women, making other women aware of the opportunities and developments in the industry (see “Changing the Face of AAM,” Vertiflite, Mar/Apr 2022).

Since its inception, the awards have grown. The drone industry has stepped up to support the program, with major names sponsoring awards and, for the first time, enabling a monetary micro grant for each honoree. In addition, the awards now honor those teams who work to incorporate diversity and inclusivity in their missions.

“Every year at CES, tech leaders and promising entrepreneurs convene to share ideas, launch products and forge relationship — all paving the way for our future,” said Karen Chupka, CTA Executive Vice President for CES. “We are excited to host the Women to Watch awards at CES 2022 and recognize the trailblazers, innovators, mentors and business leaders making significant contributions to the industry.”

CES in Summary

Overall, CES 2022 might have been quieter in some halls but showed its usual enthusiasm with several exhibits — especially SkyDrive and ASKA. The AAM panel discussions were well attended, the exhibits were more engaging without the usual overwhelming crowds, and the Women & Drones awards program was inspiring.

About the Authors

Nicolas Zart has written on electric cars, autonomous cars, electric aircraft and other green mobility vehicles since 2007 for various outlets. A frequent contributor to Vertiflite, he has also written for CleanTechnica, Robb Report and Aviation International News.

Jim Sherman is the VFS Director of Strategic Development.

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