HyPoint and Piasecki reach $6.5M deal to develop hydrogen fuel cells systems for eVTOLs

A quick survey of many of the most highly valued electric vertical take-off and landing companies shows one thing in common: All of them are developing aircraft powered by batteries. But a growing suite of aviation companies, turned off by what they see as the energy density limitations of lithium-ion batteries, are turning instead to hydrogen fuel cells.

This is where HyPoint comes in. The two-year-old company has been working with a number of eVTOL companies, like ZeroAvia, on air-cooled hydrogen fuel cell systems that it says have triple the power-to-weight ratio of traditional liquid-cooled hydrogen fuel cells. Now, the fuel cell developer is adding Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to its list of partners.

The relationship between the two companies is being minted with a $6.5 million multiphase development agreement for the design and certification of hydrogen fuel cell systems. Through the partnership, HyPoint aims to deliver five full-scale, 650 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for ground testing, demo flights and the certification process.

The goal is to create a system that has four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries, double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel cell systems, and that costs up to 50% less relative to the operative costs of turbine-powered rotorcraft. HyPoint unveiled a prototype of the new technology in March.

Through the deal, Piasecki will have exclusive license to the tech created as a result of the partnership. It aims to use the technology for use in its PA-890 manned helicopter, which it says would be the first hydrogen-powered helicopter on the market. HyPoint will maintain exclusive ownership of the fuel cell system.

The two companies said in a statement that they intend to make the system available to other eVTOL makers as well. “Piasecki is ready to support other eVTOL makers with Hypoint,” HyPoint CEO Alex Ivanenko told TechCrunch

The agreement started with a feasibility study, in which HyPoint created a very small-scale prototype to show proof-of-concept. Now, the company is in the design stage, at work building a single power module (each 650 kW system contains several), and an integration concept of the system in Piasecki’s aircraft. The single power module will be ready by the end of this year, with the first 650 kW system being delivered to Piasecki in 2023, and a commercially available product by around 2025.

The two companies have also developed a certification roadmap that outlines when HyPoint needs to deliver systems, to ensure that they’re ready for testing and demo flights with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Our objective is to develop full-scale systems within two years to support on-aircraft certification testing in 2024 and fulfill existing customer orders for up to 325 units starting in 2025,” John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki, said.

#aerospace, #evtol, #greentech, #hydrogen-fuel-cells, #hypoint, #piasecki-aircraft-corporation, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Archer Aviation is seeking $1B in damages from Wisk Aero as legal dispute escalates

Archer Aviation is seeking $1 billion in damages from Wisk Aero, according to court filings Tuesday, significantly escalating the ongoing legal battle between the two air taxi rivals.

Wisk “deployed a knowingly false extra-judicial smear campaign that projected stand-alone defamatory statements about Archer to the world,” the filing says. On this basis, Archer claims that this “smear campaign” has negatively impacted its ability to access capital and has impaired business relationships, resulting in damages “likely to exceed $1 billion.”

The two companies have been locked in a heated legal battle for much of this year. The dispute started in April, when Wisk filed a suit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming that Archer had misappropriated its trade secrets related to Wisk’s debut eVTOL aircraft, Cora. Wisk further alleged that a former employee, Jing Xue, downloaded thousands of proprietary files from his work computer prior to joining Archer.

This is not the first time that Archer has hit back against the accusations in court. First it filed a motion to dismiss the suit in early June, and later that month alleged in a separate court document that Archer’s design was well-established prior to Wisk’s having filed any patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Archer unveiled a prototype of its Maker aircraft in February, the same month that it announced (to much fanfare) it was going public via a merger with blank-check firm Atlas Crest Investment Corp. for a pro-forma enterprise value of $2.7 billion. Late last month Archer slashed its valuation by $1 billion in a “strategic reset” of the transaction terms with the SPAC. While this is the same amount Archer is seeking in damages, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch that is just coincidental.

In addition, the spokesperson added that the planned merger remains on track. Speaking to the suit, they said, “We have no plans to drop our counter-claim regardless of any moves Wisk may make.”

A Wisk spokesperson said “Archer’s counterclaim is ludicrous and its troubles are purely self-inflicted,” and characterized the filing as “full of distortions and distractions from the serious patent and trade secret misappropriation claims it faces.” The spokesperson added that Wisk intends to continue its case against Archer.

#aerospace, #air-taxis, #archer-aviation, #evtol, #lawsuit, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Lilium in talks with Brazilian airline for $1B order

German electric aircraft startup Lilium is negotiating the terms for a 220-aircraft, $1 billion order with one of Brazil’s largest domestic airlines, the companies said Monday. Should the deal with Azul move forward, it would mark the largest order in Lilium’s history and its first foray into South American markets.

“A term sheet has been signed and we will move towards a final agreement in the coming months,” a Lilium spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The 220 aircraft would fly as part of a new, co-branded airline network that would operate in Brazil. Should the two companies come to an agreement, Azul would operate and maintain the fleet of the flagship 7-seater aircraft, and Lilium would provide custom spare parts, including replacement batteries, and an aircraft health monitoring platform.

Deliveries would commence in 2025, a year after Lilium has said it plans to begin commercial operations in Europe and the United States. These timelines are dependent upon Lilium receiving key certification approvals from each country’s requisite aerospace regulator. Azul said in a statement it would “support Lilium with the necessary regulatory approval processes in Brazil” as part of the agreement.

Even if a deal is reached, it would likely be subject to Lilium hitting certain performance standards and benchmarks, similar to the conditions of Archer Aviation’s $1 billion order with United Airlines. Still, orders of this value are seen as a positive signal to markets and investors that an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft is more than smoke and mirrors.

Also like Archer, Lilium is planning on taking the SPAC route to going public. The company in March announced its intention to merge with Qell Acquisition Corp. and list on Nasdaq under ticker symbol “LILM.” SPACs have become a popular vehicle for public listing across the transportation sector, but they’ve become especially popular with capital-intensive eVTOL startups.

The merger may be necessary for the company’s continued operations. According to the German news website Welt, Lilium added a risk warning to its 2019 balance sheet noting that it will run out of money in December 2022 should the SPAC merger not be completed.

#aerospace, #electric-aviation, #evtol, #lilium, #startups, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

The Lilium electric Jet will use batteries manufactured by Germany’s Customcells

Electric air taxi startup Lilium has tapped German manufacturer Customcell to supply batteries for its flagship 7-seater Lilium Jet.

The battery IP is the result of “multiple players,” a Lilium spokesperson told TechCrunch, but the manufacturing will be the sole job of Customcells. While Lilium declined to specify the number of battery systems as part of the agreement, it confirmed that Customcells will be manufacturing guaranteed capacity until 2026.

Customcells specializes in high-performance lithium-ion batteries for the aerospace, automotive and maritime industries. The manufacturer recently announced a new joint venture with luxury sports car maker Porsche AG, dubbed Cellforce Group, for the low-volume  production of batteries for racing cars and performance vehicles.

This is just the latest partnership Lilium has announced in recent months as it prepares to shift into component and vehicle testing. The Munich-based eVTOL company has developed an international network of partnerships with suppliers like Japanese company Toray Industries for carbon fiber composite; Spanish aerospace supplier Aciturri for the Jet’s airframe and Palantir Technologies, one of its investors, for software services. In June, Lilium added aerospace manufacturing giant Honeywell to its roster for the Jet’s flight control and avionics system.

Lilium’s decision to outsource major components to established manufacturers is a departure from many of the other leading eVTOL developers, like Joby Aviation, which have chosen to keep much of the engineering and production in-house. The strategy has a few advantages. For one, Lilium doesn’t have to spend millions – possibly hundreds of millions over time – in manufacturing facilities, or production and testing equipment. But the key advantage, Lilium executives suggest, may lie with the certification process.

Like other eVTOL manufacturers, the Lilium Jet must receive regulatory approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate commercially in the EU and U.S., respectively. Lilium, in line with other major would-be players in the industry, has set an ambitious target of 2024 for commencing commercial operations. Established aerospace suppliers may use components that have already achieved a minimum performance standard recognized by regulators, which could save time in the certification process.

“Collaborating with experts, aerospace partners, is a deliberate choice for us,” Lilium’s chief program officer Yves Yemsi told TechCrunch earlier this year. “It will help us to reduce our time to market and still be safe.”

#customcells, #evtol, #lilium, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Joby Aviation, aiming to go to market in 2024, completes 154 mile test flight

Santa Cruz, California-based Joby Aviation has completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date, as its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge, the company said Monday.

The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.

The prototype spent more than an hour and 17 minutes in the air and covered 154.6 statute miles on a single battery charge, traveling along a predefined circuit. While the test flight was remotely piloted by Joby’s chief test pilot, Justin Paines, the company plans to have pilots in the aircraft when it opens its ridesharing service for customers.

Headed by JoeBen Bevirt, Joby Aviation has spent the past twelve years designing eVTOL – an electric vertical take-off and landing craft that ascends like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, and is magnitudes quieter than both.

Joby is one of a suite of startups looking to make electric air travel a reality for the average American. The company’s website features a handy graphic showing a proposed trip from Los Angeles airport to Newport Beach – over an hour and 44 miles by car, but only 15 minutes and 35 miles with Joby. Joby aims to make such trips a reality by 2024, and tests like these are a major sign to the public, investors and regulators that it is on-track to meet that timeline.

Significantly, the company uses commercially available lithium-ion batteries that its adapted for air travel, so this test flight is also proof that its battery tech is up for the challenge. It’s a tricky challenge: the battery must have enough energy density to fly around 150 miles while also having enough power to take-off and land vertically. But Joby says its nailed a specific combination of cathode and graphite anode to achieve these goals.

Besides being one of the oldest eVTOL developers, Joby is also the best-funded, raising nearly $800 million in funding to date. That includes a $75 million investment from Uber after Joby bought its air taxi arm, Elevate, and a $400 million investment from Toyota Motor Corp. Joby is going to go public via a merger with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners, a business combination that will inject the startup with an additional $1.6 billion in capital.

It’s a lot of money, but designing and commercializing a novel aircraft is an expensive business: according to some estimates, costing up to $1 billion all told.

“We’ve achieved something that many thought impossible with today’s battery technology,” Bevirt said in a statement. “By doing so we’ve taken the first step towards making convenient, emissions-free air travel between places like San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, Houston and Austin, or Los Angeles and San Diego an everyday reality.”

Watch a video on the test flight here:

#electric-air-travel, #electric-aircraft, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Judge denies Wisk Aero’s request for preliminary injunction against Archer Aviation

Electric aviation startup Wisk Aero’s request for a preliminary injunction against rival Archer Aviation was denied by a federal judge Thursday, the latest in an ongoing legal battle over whether Archer stole trade secrets in developing its flagship Maker aircraft.

A full written opinion has not yet been published. In a tentative ruling filed earlier this week, Judge William Orrick said Wisk’s “evidence of misappropriation is too equivocal to warrant a preliminary injunction.” Wisk filed for the injunction in May; if it had been approved, it would have effectively put an immediate halt to Archer’s operations.

Wisk submitted to the court 52 trade secrets it alleges were stolen and used by Archer, and the injunction would have prevented Archer from using any of them until a final decision was issued in the suit. It’s an extraordinary request and it makes sense that Orrick would need to see more certain evidence of misappropriation.

“There are some arguable indications of misappropriation, but given how equivocal the evidence is, Wisk is not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of an injunction,” Orrick said in the tentative ruling. “Because the merits are so uncertain, Wisk has also not adequately shown irreparable injury based on misappropriation. And the balance of hardships favors Archer because, without solid evidence of misappropriation, an injunction would gravely threaten its business.”

Wisk says the judge’s decision on the injunction has no bearing on the outcome of the case “and does not exonerate Archer in the least.”

“We brought this lawsuit based on strong indications of theft and use of Wisk’s IP, and the initial limited evidence gathered through the court process to date only confirms our belief that Archer’s misappropriation of Wisk’s trade secrets is widespread and pervades Archer’s aircraft development,” Wisk continued. “Following today’s ruling, Wisk will be allowed to begin collecting evidence in earnest.”

Wisk was established in 2019 as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, but its history with electric aviation stretches back much further. The company was originally founded in 2010 as Levt, which eventually merged with sister company Kitty Hawk. Wisk says it (as Kitty Hawk) zeroed in on a fixed-wing, 12-rotor design in 2016. It’s this design that’s the centerpiece of its debut aircraft, Cora.

Archer, by contrast, is newer to the field. Much of Wisk’s original complaint, filed in April, is predicated on the speed with which Archer is bringing its air taxi service to market. Archer also recruited many former Wisk engineers — including former employee Jing Xue, whom Wisk says downloaded nearly 5,000 files before his departure from the company, which it alleges he handed over to Archer.

When he was cross-examined, Xue pled the Fifth Amendment, invoking his right to not self-incriminate, citing an ongoing federal investigation.

Archer says Wisk has not brought forward any substantive evidence of the central claim of the lawsuit: that Archer received and used Wisk trade secrets. Wisk’s allegations are based on “conspiracy theories and outright misrepresentations,” Archer’s Deputy General Counsel Eric Lentell said.

“It is clear to us from Wisk’s actions in this case that after recognizing Archer’s momentum and pace of innovation, Wisk began abusing the judicial and criminal justice system in an attempt to slow us down to compensate for its own lack of success,” Archer co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein said.

The court will hold a scheduling conference on August 11, where the judge will outline next steps for the case. A date for the trial has not been set.

The case is filed in the California Northern District Court under case no. 3:2021cv02450.

#aerospace, #archer-aviation, #aviation, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Whisper Aero emerges from stealth to quiet drones and air taxis

The skies are on the cusp of getting busier — and louder — as drone delivery and electric vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft startups move from moonshot to commercialization. One former NASA engineer and ex-director of Uber’s air taxi division is developing tech to ensure that more air traffic doesn’t equal more noise.

Mark Moore, who was most recently director of engineering at Uber Elevate until its acquisition by Joby Aviation, has a launched his own company called Whisper Aero. The startup, which came out of stealth this week, is aiming to designing an electric thruster it says will blend noise emitted from delivery drones and eVTOLs alike into background levels, making them nearly imperceptible to the human ear.

It’s a formidable challenge. Solving the noise problem comes down to more than simply cranking down the volume. Noise profiles are also characterized by other variables, like frequency. For example, helicopters have a main rotor and tail rotor that generate two separate frequencies, which makes them much more irritating to the human ear than if they were at a single frequency, Moore told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Complicating the picture even further is that eVTOL companies are designing entirely new types of aircraft, ones that may generate different acoustic profiles than other rotorcraft (like helicopters). The U.S. Army recently undertook a research study confirming that eVTOL rotors generate more of a type of noise referred to as broadband, rather than tonal noise which is generated by helicopters. And as each eVTOL company is developing its own design, not all of the electric aircraft will generate the same level or kind of noise.

Whisper is designing its scalable product to be adoptable across the board.

Moore said the idea for the company had been fomenting for years. He and Whisper COO Ian Villa, who headed strategy and simulation at Elevate, realized years ago that noise (that is, less of it) was key to air taxis taking off.

“The thing that was abundantly clear was, noise matters most,” Villa said. “It is the hardest barrier to break through. And not enough of these developers were spending the time, the resources, the mindshare to really unlock that.”

Whisper CEO Mark Moore. Image Credits: Whisper Aero (opens in a new window)

Helicopters have mostly been able to get away with their terrible noise profile because they are used so infrequently. But eVTOL companies like Joby Aviation are envisioning far higher ride volumes. Moore is quick to point out that companies like Joby (which purchased Elevate at the end of 2020) are already developing aircraft that are many times quieter than helicopter, and are “a step in the right direction.”

“The question is, ‘is it enough of a step to get to significant adoption?’ And that’s what we’re focused on.”

Whisper is staying mum on the details of its thruster design. It has managed to attract around $7.5 million investment from firms like Lux Capital, Abstract Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Kindred Ventures and Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition Ventures. It’s also aiming to convert its provisional patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office sometime next year.

From there, the startup envisions launching in the small drone market around 2023, before scaling progressively up to air taxis. Moore said the goal is to get the thrusters manufactured and in vehicles by the end of the decade. Should the first generation of eVTOL go to market in 2024 (as Archer Aviation and Joby have proposed), Whisper’s product could potentially appear in second generation eVTOL.

In the meantime, Whisper will continue testing and working out remaining technical challenges – least among which is how to manufacture the end product at a reasonable cost. Whisper is also preparing to conduct dynamic testing in a wind tunnel, in addition to the static tests it has undertaken at its Tennessee headquarters, some in partnership with the U.S. Air Force.

“It’s got to be quiet enough to blend into the background noise,” Moore said. “We know this and that’s the technology we’re developing.”

#aerial-ridesharing, #archer-aviation, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #mark-moore, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #uber-elevate, #urban-air-mobility

Archer Aviation hits back against rival Wisk Aero’s request for injunction in trade secret suit

Archer Aviation is ramping up its defense against claims by rival Wisk Aero that it misappropriated trade secrets. Archer, which unveiled its Maker eVTOL earlier this month, alleged in a court filing late Wednesday that Wisk learned of Archer’s aircraft design weeks before it filed its patent design application – effectively reversing claims that it stole Wisk’s design.

Wisk claimed in its April lawsuit that its design is nearly identical to Archer’s, and that the similarities are the result of a former Wisk employee (who was later hired by Archer) stealing proprietary work files. In this new filing, Archer alleged that it shared its plans for a 12-rotor tilting design with Geoff Long, a senior engineer at Wisk, whom Archer was considering recruiting. Archer alleges that Long shared Archer’s plans with Wisk executives weeks before Wisk filed its patent application.

Still following? Archer also says that it hired a third party to conduct a forensic analysis, which found no evidence of any of the allegedly stolen documents on Archer’s systems or the devices belonging to the former Wisk-now-Archer employee.

The filing was made in response to an injunction Wisk filed in May, requesting that the court immediately prohibit its rival from using any of the 52 trade secrets it alleges were stolen. It’s a request that could have potentially catastrophic effects on Archer, as the company itself admits in the filing. Archer argues that approving the injunction would take it “offline indefinitely” and pose a “grave danger” to Archer and its network of partners and suppliers.

“Wisk’s legal and media blitz is threatening to derail Archer’s anticipated merger and its business partnerships and compelling Archer to redirect significant resources to defend this lawsuit,” Archer says in the filing. The company further requested that if an injunction should be granted, it should also require a $1.1 billion bond – which Wisk would have to pay should the court ultimately side with Archer.

Wisk, in response to the filing, sent the following statement to TechCrunch: “Archer’s latest filing is full of inaccuracies and attempts to distract from the serious and broad scope of misappropriation claims it faces. The filing changes nothing. We look forward to continuing our case in court to demonstrate Archer’s improper use of Wisk’s intellectual property.”

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under case no. 5:21-cv-2450.

#archer-aviation, #electric-aviation, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

GM has launched a series of new subsidiaries in the past year tackling electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles. These startups, including numerous ones that will never make the cut, get their start under Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher’s watch.

Fletcher, who joined TechCrunch on June 9 at the virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event, runs a group of 170 people developing and launching startups with a total addressable market of about $1.3 trillion.

Today, about 19 companies are making their way through the incubator in hopes of joining recent GM startups like OnStar Guardian, OnStar Insurance, GM Defense and BrightDrop, the commercial electric vehicle delivery business that launched in January. Not everything will make it, Fletcher told the audience, noting “we add new things all the time.”

Launching any startup presents challenges. But launching multiple startups within a 113-year-old automaker that employs 155,000 people globally is another, more complex matter. The bar, which determines whether these startups are ever publicly launched, is specific and high. A GM startup has to be a new idea that can attract new customers and grow the total addressable market for the automaker, using existing assets and IP.

The Volt effect

The 2010 Chevrolet Volt is a noteworthy moment on the GM timeline. The vehicle marked the company’s first commercial push into electrification since the 1990s EV1 program. Fletcher, who was the chief engineer of the Chevy Volt propulsion system from 2008 to 2011, noted that the Volt was the beginning of a change within the automaker that eventually led to other commercial products including the all-electric Chevy Bolt, the hands-free driver assistance system Super Cruise and its current work on autonomous vehicle development with its subsidiary Cruise.

I don’t know that the Volt was a root exactly of what we’re seeing today. But I think it was definitely the start of a groundswell of really looking at, how do we inject technology that customers are excited about and care about quickly? How do we engage them deeply in the process? … Which we’ve always done … just, I think there was a climate there where the appetite was so strong with a certain group of customers for the technology that it allowed us to get really a front row seat with them, which was game changing for those of us on the frontlines. And obviously, there have been many programs that have had that in their own ways, but you really see that accelerating now with the advent of everything we’re doing in electrification and autonomous and a portfolio that is just emerging even to the notion of applying some of these great technologies to our new full size, truck and SUV programs. So it’s really broad, based across the company, which is exciting. (Timestamp: 4:56)

Fletcher explained how working to commercialize new technology changed how the company interacted with customers.

With new technologies, one, you get to a new customer base sometimes. So, really understanding what that customer is looking like and putting them at the center of everything. Also, different technologies have different development processes and timelines and pipelines for activity. So, it really allowed us to start to think about how to approach each step of our product development and customer engagement differently. And the Volt was an interesting time too, because that was the advent of new social media was really starting to become much more popular. And so we were very connected with those customers and a great customer base that gave us tremendous feedback very directly, you know, through at the time, what was a new channel. (Timestamp: 3:50)

#automotive, #cruise-automation, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #evtol, #general-motors, #gm, #mary-barra, #pam-fletcher, #tc, #transportation

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Twelve years ago, Joby Aviation consisted of a team of seven engineers working out of founder JoeBen Bevirt’s ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, the startup has swelled to 800 people and a $6.6 billion valuation, ranking itself as the highest-valued electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company in the industry.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors.

It’s not the only air taxi company to reach unicorn status. The field is now dotted with new or soon-to-be publicly traded companies courtesy of mergers and special purpose acquisition companies. Partnerships with major automakers and airlines are on the rise, and CEOs have promised commercialization as early as 2024.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.

Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.

Big goals and bigger expenses

Taking an eVTOL from design through to manufacturing and certification will likely cost about $1 billion, Mark Moore, then-head of Uber Elevate, estimated in April 2020 during a conference held by the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

That means in some sense, the companies that will come out on top will likely be the ones that have managed to raise enough money to pay for all the expenses associated with engineering, certification, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The startups that have successfully raised or that will be able to raise significant amounts of capital to get them through the certification process … that’s the number one thing that’s going to separate the strong from the weak,” Asad Hussain, a senior analyst in mobility technology at PitchBook, told TechCrunch. “There’s over 100 startups in the space. Not all of them are going to be able to do that.”

Just consider some of the expenses accrued by the biggest eVTOLs last year: Joby Aviation spent a whopping $108 million on research and development, a $30 million increase from 2019. Archer spent $21 million in R&D in 2020, according to regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Joby’s net loss last year was $114.2 million and Archer’s was $24.8 million, though, of course, neither company has brought a product to market yet. Operating expenses will likely only continue to grow into the future as companies enter into manufacturing and deployment phases.

What that means for the future of the industry is likely two things: more SPAC deals and more acquisitions.

Mobility companies, including those working on electrified transport, are often pre-revenue and have capitally intensive business models — a combination that can make it difficult to find buyers in a traditional IPO. SPACs have become increasingly popular as a shorter, less expensive path to becoming a public company. SPACs have also historically received less scrutiny than IPOs. Should the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission start to take a closer look at SPAC mergers in the future, it may impair the ability of other air taxi companies to go public this way, Hussain said.

That means market consolidation is nearly guaranteed, as smaller companies may find it more advantageous to sell than continue to raise more capital. It’s already begun: At the end of April, eVTOL developer Astro Aerospace announced the acquisition of Horizon Aircraft.

Horizon cited “greater access to capital” as one of the many benefits of the transaction, and other companies will likely find the buy or sell route to be the most beneficial on the road to commercialization. And just last week, British eVTOL Vertical Aerospace, which has an order for 150 aircraft from Virgin Atlantic, said it would go public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp. at an equity value of around $2.2 billion.

#aerospace, #air-taxi, #aviation, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-aircraft, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #volocopter, #wisk-aero

Archer Aviation reveals 2-seater demonstration aircraft, a “stepping stone” toward commercial operations

Archer Aviation unveiled its autonomous electric two-seater aircraft dubbed “Maker” on Thursday, which it will use for testing as it works towards certification of a larger piloted five-seater announced in March 2020.

The aircraft unveiled on Thursday is not what would take to the skies should the company reach commercial operation in 2024. However, Archer’s Head of Certification Eric Wright told TechCrunch that starting with an autonomous vehicle allows the company to move through the testing process more efficiently.

“The [two-seater] Maker aircraft is a stepping stone in the path to certification,” Wright explained. He said it was a “a testbed that really helps us to increase our knowledge and awareness on say, the flight control systems and the electric propulsion and the things that we’re putting into the certified aircraft, and to help the [Federal Aviation Administration] gain confidence in that design as we as we put it through its paces, and of course, they will be involved in in watching that development occur.”

Both Maker and the unnamed five-seater aircraft bear similarities in their specs: both have a “tilt-rotor” design, meaning that of the total 12 rotors on the aircraft, the front six can tilt position. This tilting mechanism is what allows the aircraft to ascend vertically like a helicopter and move forward like an airplane.

The two also have six independent battery packs each for safety purposes, as the rest of the batteries should operate even in the case that one fails. It’s these batteries that give the crafts a 60-mile range at 150 miles per hour. While the two-seater design has a 40-foot wingspan and clocks in at around 3,300 pounds, the larger aircraft will likely weigh more, Wright said.

The Palo Alto-based company also said it anticipates Maker will generate only 45 decibels of sound from 2,000 feet. The noise specification is especially important for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies that have air taxi aspirations. Mass adoption will only likely be acceptable – both by the public and by regulators – if the aircraft is sufficiently quiet.

Archer had been slowly trickling information on Maker over the past few months, including releasing a high-quality rendering of the two-seater after the company announced it had landed a $1 billion order with United. (The release of those renders helped trigger a lawsuit from rival eVTOL developer Wisk Aero alleging trade secret misappropriation.) The event on Thursday marks the first time the public has been able to see an actual aircraft from the startup that’s valued at $3.8 billion.

When asked why the debut aircraft is autonomous, Wright said it would help the company move more efficiently through the testing and validation process. “By making the vehicle autonomous you can do things quicker without having the pilot in the aircraft actually having to fly it,” Wright said. “So you can look at the response that the aircraft has to the inputs, from an autonomous standpoint, much quicker, much more efficiently.”

While it may be years yet that autonomous air taxis are ferrying people across cities, Archer, like other eVTOL developers, does see autonomy in its long-term blueprint – as operational aircraft, rather than simply facilitating a larger certification process.

“If we’re going to have a really large impact on transportation, I think it’s really difficult to think about doing that in a piloted way really long term,” Archer CEO Brett Adcock told TechCrunch in a separate interview. “I think piloted is for sure the right way to enter the market as relates to getting into the airspace and getting certified and making that happen, basically, right away. And then I think over time, in order to drive up safety for both passengers and the network, it’s really going to be important to move to autonomous airspace. So I think [autonomy] is inevitable to the extent the industry scales really well and gets big.”

The three-year-old startup aims to launch commercial operations in 2024 starting in Los Angeles and Miami. The company’s system simulation team is using a simulation tool called Prime Radiant to determine where to place its vertiports. That team is led by the former head of data science at Uber Elevate, Uber’s air mobility arm that was later sold to Joby Aviation in December 2020.

Adcock also said the company’s had conversations with ride-sharing companies about working together to integrate the first- and last-mile car trips that will inevitably be needed with the air taxi routes.

In advance of the proposed 2024 launch date, Goldstein said the company is working with its partner, the automaker Stellantis, on two facilities: one that would deliver traditional aerospace volumes in the hundreds of aircraft per year, and a future facility that would build an even higher volume.

Archer has similar manufacturing needs as an automaker, Goldstein said, “where we use lightweight carbon fiber for a lot of the parts, we have electric motors, batteries all that like autos do.” 

#air-taxis, #archer-aviation, #electric-aircraft, #evtol, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Joby Aviation eyes Asia and Europe as early markets alongside North America

While electric vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft startup Joby Aviation is targeting North America for its initial commercial launch, founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt expects the company to have an early presence in Asia and Europe as well.

Bevirt, who joined the TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on June 9, didn’t give away the first location; although recent announcements suggest it is narrowed down to Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. But he did weigh in on what those first cities will look like.

“I imagine that we will have early markets in each of the three regions,” he said. “Our initial launch market will be in North America just for proximity to the nexus of where most of our team is currently. But there are incredible opportunities and cities around the world and we want to provide as much benefit to as many people as quickly as we possibly can. And so that’s why we’re so focused on scaling manufacturing.”

Joby Aviation is expected to begin construction on a 450,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, designed in conjunction with Toyota, later this year. The company has completed a pilot manufacturing facility already.

Joby, once a secretive startup, has had a far more public six months of late. The company reached a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners, formed by well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Michael Thompson and Zynga founder Mark Pincus. Hoffman also joined Bevirt at the TC Sessions: Mobility event.

Prior to its SPAC deal, Joby had gained attention and investors over the years as it developed its eVTOL. Toyota became an important backer and partner, leading a $620 million Series C round of funding in January 2020. Nearly a year later, Joby acquired Uber’s air taxi moonshot Elevate as part of a complex deal.

Today, Joby is focused on certification, which it has been working on with the FAA since 2018, as well manufacturing its eVTOL aircraft. The company is also starting to put the pieces together for how and where it will operate. And that’s adding to its size. In the past year, Joby has doubled its workforce, which now sits at about 800.

Earlier this month, Joby Aviation announced a partnership with REEF Technology, one of the country’s largest parking garage operators, and real estate acquisition company Neighborhood Property Group to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.

When 2024 arrives, Bevirt anticipates launching in one to two cities in that first year of operation. 

“We do want to provide sufficient depth of coverage that consumers get to experience the transformative experience,” Bevirt said. “There have been cases where if a new service launches, and there’s not enough supply, consumers can be frustrated, right. And so we want to make sure we can, that we can really service, at least a portion of the demand and provide a really gratifying experience to our customers. I think that that’s the piece that we really care about as a company, is making customers into raving fans.”

#evtol, #joby-aviation, #startups, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

German eVTOL maker Lilium partners with Honeywell for flight control and avionics systems

German electric air mobility company Lilium has partnered with aerospace manufacturer Honeywell to develop the electronics and mechanical systems for the 7-seater Lilium Jet, the company’s debut eVTOL.

Honeywell will supply its compact fly-by-wire system, a flight control component that will be responsible for controlling all of the Jet’s moving parts, and the aircraft’s avionics system. eVTOL company Vertical Aerospace is also using Honeywell’s compact fly-by-wire system in its aircraft, but the avionics system for the version Lilium will be using was designed to suit the specific technical requirements of the Lilium Jet.

Honeywell is a giant in the aerospace manufacturing industry, and one of the first to create a dedicated Urban Air Mobility team. The company has also become an investor in Lilium by participating in the common stock private investment in public equity (PIPE) offering announced in connection with Lilium’s SPAC merger with Qell Acquisiton Corp.

The two companies have been in discussion and collaboration since February 2019, Lilium’s chief program officer Yves Yemsi told TechCrunch. He said Lilium identified core competencies it wanted to keep in-house – the design and assembly of the propulsion and battery systems and the final aircraft assembly, for example – and will partner with experienced suppliers for other parts of the aircraft.

“Collaborating with experts, aerospace partners, is a deliberate choice for us,” he said. “It will help us to reduce our time to market and still be safe.”

A key advantage of the partnership is how it will help the certification process, Yemsi explained. Some of Honeywell’s components have achieved a Technical Standard Order (TSO), which is a minimum performance standard recognized by the FAA. Using TSO authorized components could help save time in the certification process.

Lilium already has teams of people working on getting Design Production Approval and Production Organization Approval, two types of approvals issued by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that essentially verify the company is able to bring a product to market. These approvals complement the type certification that Lilium aircraft (and all other eVTOL) must achieve with both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the EASA before the company can start commercial operations.

The partnership with Honeywell, an established aerospace manufacturer, marks a major point of progress for Lilium. The next step after Honeywell starts delivering components is to develop and test the aircraft in a system integration laboratory, which tests on the ground that the avionics and electronic systems, Yemsi said.

“Now the hard work begins,” he said.

#electric-aircraft, #evtol, #honeywell, #lilium, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Archer Aviation pushes for dismissal of Wisk trade secret suit

Archer Aviation hit back against allegations that it misappropriated trade secrets and infringed on patents from electric aircraft rival Wisk Aero, telling a court this week that it designed its Maker aircraft with a third-party eVTOL consultant prior to any former Wisk employees joining the company.

Archer said it worked with consultant FlightHouse Engineering at the end of 2019, when the consultancy firm modeled a 12-rotor fixed wing aircraft, with the front six rotors capable of tilting from a vertical to a horizontal position. This is the design that ultimately became the Maker. By the time the first Wisk employee arrived at Archer, this design had already been modeled, Archer says.

“Despite the breathless innuendo and baseless speculation to which Wisk devotes its entire complaint, Archer’s eVTOL aircraft design is not only the best eVTOL aircraft around, it is entirely Archer’s design,” the answer says.

A Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch that Archer’s filing changes nothing about the case. It “contains no substantive response to the allegations Archer misappropriated more than 50 specific Wisk trade secrets, which were disclosed in a court filing last month and cover multiple components, systems, and designs for the aircraft,” the spokesperson said. “We believe Archer’s business is built on Wisk’s intellectual property as detailed in our filings, and we look forward to proceeding with our case.”

Wisk filed its lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in April, alleging that Archer perpetrated a “brazen theft” of confidential information and intellectual property. The suit came just two months after Archer announced it would merge with special purpose acquisition company Atlas Crest Investment Corp. in a deal valued at $3.8 billion.

In its filing Tuesday, Archer included counterclaims alleging “tortious interference and unfair competition.” Archer stated that Wisk engaged in a “media campaign” that was timed “to maximize harm to Archer after learning of Archer’s impending financial success.”

In a separate motion to dismiss, Archer also said that Wisk failed to identify any specific trade secrets that it allegedly misappropriated in the April complaint.

Wisk, born of a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk Corp., did include a 72-page trade secret disclosure in a separate injunction filed on May 19. That injunction could potentially bar Archer from using any of the purportedly stolen technology. An Archer spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will file an opposition to that injunction on June 23, “which will address Wisk’s purported trade secret disclosure statement.”

A major part of Wisk’s suit are allegations that a former Wisk employee, Jing Xue, downloaded thousands of proprietary files from his work computer prior to joining Archer. However, Archer said in the motion to dismiss that Wisk does not allege that the former employee disclosed any such information to Archer. According to Archer, “such allegations do not suffice to show that Archer […] came into possession of the files or learned of the confidential information therein, much less that it did so knowingly, as is required to state a trade secret claim.”


#archer-aviation, #electric-aviation, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Joby Aviation targets parking garages for its aerial ridesharing network

Joby Aviation is partnering with one of the country’s largest parking garage operators and a real estate acquisition company to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, the company said Wednesday.

The partnership with REFF Technology and Neighborhood Property Group will give Joby “access to an unparalleled range of rooftop locations across all key metropolitan areas in the US, as well as a mechanism to fund the acquisition and development of new skyport sites,” Joby said in a statement.

Building out a convenient, accessible and large network of locations to hitch a ride on an air taxi will likely be a key factor determining which companies succeed in attracting would-be riders to their service. The current infrastructure to support helicopters is limited, especially in urban areas, where electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies intend to launch.

The deal will give Joby exclusive access to the sites for a period, during which it said it can secure long-term leases within REEF’s real estate network.

Until now little has been known about the electric aircraft giant’s intentions regarding its aerial ridesharing network, although founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt has publicly talked about the benefits of using existing parking garages.

Such structures are typically in dense areas, they’re large, and they’re built out of robust material that can support multiple small aircraft. But perhaps most importantly, parking garages already house cars, another form of transportation that will likely work hand-in-hand with air taxis in serving first- and last-mile segments of a journey.

REEF, which began as parking lot management and servicing company ParkJockey, now operates around 4,500 mobility and logistics hubs that it says reaches 70% of the North American urban population. REEF raised $700 million from SoftBank, the Mubadala Corp. and others last November.

In addition to the new partnership, Joby said its vertiport network will use existing heliport and regional airport locations.

“This is a landmark deal on Joby’s path to building a transformational ridesharing service in our skies,” Bevirt said in a statement. “NPG and REEF have an unbeatable network of sites across the US and we’re excited to be working with them to identify sites that will become the backbone of our future service.

#electric-aircraft, #electric-aviation, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #reef-technology, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Wisk Aero files injunction in trade secret lawsuit against Archer Aviation

Electric aviation company Wisk Aero filed a motion for a preliminary injunction Wednesday in its ongoing lawsuit with rival electric air travel startup Archer Aviation. The injunction could put a serious wrench in Archer’s operations should the courts approve it.

Wisk has asked the court to immediately prohibit Archer from using 52 trade secrets that it alleges were stolen by former employees who were later hired by Archer. The trade secrets “span the gamut of systems within the aircraft and processes for development,” a Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Archer did not respond to a request for comment by press time. TechCrunch will update the story if they do.

Given the widespread subject matter of the trade secrets, an injunction would likely limit Archer’s operations. The courts have not yet ruled on whether Archer misappropriated trade secrets, as Wisk alleged in its original filing on April 6. Wisk says it discovered the trade secret theft after it sent the work laptops of a departing employee to an outsider investigator, who discovered that the employee had downloaded nearly 5,000 files. This employee is now a senior power electronics engineer at Archer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate federal investigation into Archer based on Wisk’s trade secret allegations.

Archer said in a filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission that it had “placed an employee on paid administrative leave in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee.”

The injunction hearing has not been scheduled. It will likely occur within the next few days due to the nature of the request. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California under case no. 5:21-cv-2450.

#aerospace, #archer-aviation, #aviation, #electric-planes, #evtol, #lawsuit, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #wisk-aero

Beta Technologies adds $368 million in Series A funding for its electric aviation ecosystem

Electric aviation startup Beta Technologies closed a $368 million Series A funding round on Tuesday, with investments from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. The new capital is the second round of funding announced by the company this year, after the company raised $143 million in private capital in March.

The funding round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company with undisclosed additions from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, a $2 billion fund established in September 2019 to advance the development of sustainable technologies. The Climate Pledge fund has also made contributions toward electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, battery recycler Redwood Materials and ZeroAvia, a hydrogen fuel cell aviation company.

The company’s valuation is now at $1.4 billion, CNBC reported, putting it in a small circle of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies to have achieved valuations at over a billion dollars.

Unlike developers Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation, who have each also achieved valuations over the billion-dollar mark, Beta is not primarily focused on air taxis. Instead, it’s been targeting defense applications, cargo delivery, and medical logistics, as well as building out its network of rapid-charging systems in the northeast U.S. Its debut aircraft, the ALIA-250c, was built to serve these various solutions by being capable of carrying six people or a pilot and 1,500 pounds.

The Vermont-based startup has already scored major partnerships in all of these industries, including with United Therapeutics to transport synthetic organs for human transplant; UPS, who purchased 10 ALIA aircraft with the option of buying 140 more; and the U.S. Air Force.

The company has not entirely ignored passenger transportation, however, announcing last month a partnership with Blade Urban Air Mobility for five aircraft to be delivered in 2024.

Beta was the first company to be awarded airworthiness approval from the U.S. Air Force. The company expects to sign a contract in June with the Air Force to allow access to Beta’s aircraft and flight simulators in Washington, D.C. and Springfield, Ohio. However, it still must achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The funds will be used to refine the ALIA’s electric propulsion system and controls, as well as to build out manufacturing space, including expanding its footprint in Vermont on land at the Burlington International Airport, the company said in a news release Tuesday.

#aerospace, #amazon, #amazon-climate-pledge-fund, #evtol, #fidelity-management, #funding, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility

Volocopter debuts a bigger eVTOL aimed at the city-suburban commute

Germany electric aviation startup Volocopter revealed Monday a new electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft targeting the suburban-to-city commuter.

The four-seater VoloConnect is designed to have a range of 62 miles, making it well-suited for trips between the suburbs and the city, the company said. The aircraft design is a significant departure from the the VoloCity, the company’s first passenger eVTOL that is designed for shorter urban trips. The two-seat VoloCity, which has to be certified, has a 22-mile range.

VoloConnect’s longer range indicates that the company has its sights set on markets outside of major city centers, and that it is looking to more directly compete with rival eVTOL startups. VoloConnect’s aircraft specs are in line with that of competitors Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero, which each have eVTOL designs with an anticipated range of around 60 miles.

VoloConnect has a hybrid lift-and-push design, combining aspects of what one might typically see in a helicopter with a small aircraft. The vertical lift is facilitated by six propellors which sit parallel to the aircraft body and are connected by two wings. The push comes from two large fans on each side of the craft. Three wheels can retract into and out of the plane’s belly during take-off and landing.

The German-based startup said the new craft can reach a cruising speed of 112 mph (180 km/h) and a top speed of around 155 mph (250 km/h). It aims to achieve certification by 2026.

Electric aviation startups are all competing to be the first company to bring an aircraft to market. Even as Volocopter released this new design, the company is primarily focused on launching its air taxi service, which would use the smaller VoloCity aircraft, in Singapore by 2023. But before Volocopter’s aircraft can take to the skies, it will first need to achieve type certification with the European Union Aviation Safety Administration and in the case of Singapore, the relevant aviation authority there.

#archer-aviation, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #tc, #transportation, #urban-air-mobility, #volocopter

Joby Aviation takes flight into the public markets via a SPAC merger

Joby Aviation, a startup that has spent a more than a decade developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft, will become a public company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company from well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a pro forma implied valuation of $6.6 billion. Through the deal, Joby is capturing $1.6 billion in cash proceeds — $690 million of which will come from Reinvent’s cash in trust and an $835 million from private investors The Baupost Group, funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Fidelity Management & Research LLC and Baillie Gifford. A $75 million convertible note, from Uber, will also be converted into common stock at a $10 per share value.

While SPAC deals typically put in place terms to prevent major shareholders from pulling out their money, this merger puts a long-term lock-up on founder JoeBen Bevirt’s shares for up to five years. The deal also includes an earnout structure with full vesting that cannot be realized until the share price reaches $50 per share, which implies more than a $30 billion market capitalization.

Joby plans to use the capital to fund the launch of passenger service, which is expected to begin in 2024. The company still must complete certification of its aircraft and develop manufacturing facilities, but it is already on its way to achieving both.

Joby has agreed to a “G-1” certification basis for its aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration, which specifies the requirements that need to be met by the company’s aircraft for it to be certified for commercial operations.

Joby is also planning to begin construction on a 450,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, designed in conjunction with Toyota, later this year.

Prior to its SPAC deal, Joby had gained attention and investors over the years as it developed its eVTOL. Toyota became an important backer and partner, leading a $620 million Series C round of funding in January 2020. Nearly a year later, Joby acquired Uber’s air taxi moonshot Elevate as part of a complex deal. Under the terms, Uber offloaded Elevate to Joby Aviation and invested $75 million into the startup. The two companies also expanded an existing partnership.

The $75 million investment was in addition to a previously undisclosed $50 million investment made by Uber as part of Joby’s Series C financing round. Uber has invested a total of $125 million into the startup. Joby Aviation had raised $820 million before its bid to become a publicly traded company.

#air-mobility, #air-taxi, #evtol, #joby-aviation, #spac, #tc, #urban-air-mobility

Archer Aviation aims to launch network of urban air taxis in Los Angeles by 2024

Archer Aviation, the electric aircraft startup that recently announced a deal to go public via a merger with a blank-check company, plans to launch a network of its urban air taxis in Los Angeles by 2024.

The announcement comes two months after the formation of the Urban Air Mobility Partnership, a one-year initiative between Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Urban Movement Labs to develop a plan for how to integrate urban aircraft into existing transportation networks and land use policies. Urban Movement Labs, launched in November 2019, is a public-private partnership involving local government and companies to develop, test and deploy transportation technologies. Urban Movement Labs and the city of Los Angeles are working on the design and access of “vertiports,” where people can go to fly on an “urban air mobility” aircraft. Urban air mobility, or UAM, is industry-speak for a highly automated aircraft that can operate and transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas.

Archer Aviation’s announcement comes two weeks since it landed United Airlines as a customer and an investor in its bid to become a publicly traded company via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. Archer Aviation reached an agreement in early February to merge with special purpose acquisition company Atlas Crest Investment Corp., an increasingly common financial path that allows the startup to eschew the once traditional IPO process. The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange with ticker symbol “ACHR,” will have an equity valuation of $3.8 billion.

United Airlines, which has a major hub in Los Angeles, was one of the investors in the deal. Under the terms of its agreement, United placed an order for $1 billion of Archer’s aircraft. United has the option to buy an additional $500 million of aircraft.

“Archer’s commitment to launch their first eVTOL aircraft in one of United’s hubs means our customers are another step closer to reducing their carbon footprint at every stage of their journey, before they even take their seat,” Michael Leskinen, vice president of corporate development and investor relations at United Airlines, said in a statement. “We’re confident that Los Angeles is only the beginning for Archer and we look forward to helping them extend their reach across all of our Hubs.”

Archer has a ways to go before it’s ready to shuttle passengers. The company has yet to mass produce its electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which is designed to travel up to 60 miles on a single charge at speeds of 150 miles per hour. The company previously said it plans to unveil its full-scale eVTOL later this year and is aiming to begin volume manufacturing in 2023.

Designing and building a hub of vertiports is among the numerous tasks that must be completed in the next three years. Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, the company’s co-founders and co-CEOs, have said they’re open to using existing infrastructure such as helipads and parking garages in the short term. Their eVTOL, known as “Maker,” is built to fit within the size of the existing infrastructure, according to the company. That flexibility, assuming the Urban Air Mobility Partnership agrees with the strategy, could help Archer meet its 2024 deadline.

#air-taxis, #archer-aviation, #electric-planes, #evtol, #los-angeles, #startups, #tc, #transportation

With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi businessJoby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes, for Archer Aviation. If the Financial Times‘ reporting is accurate, then that would mean that the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the US-based airline), and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability, and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason that United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer, Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.

#adam-goldstein, #airline, #baillie-gifford, #canoo, #chargepoint, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #economy, #evtol, #federal-aviation-administration, #finance, #fisker, #intel-capital, #investment, #jet-com, #jetblue-technology-ventures, #joby, #joby-aviation, #lilium, #linkedin, #lordstown-motors, #marc-lore, #mark-pincus, #private-equity, #proterra, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #software-as-a-service, #spacs, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #the-adecco-group, #the-financial-times, #toyota, #transportation, #uber, #united-airlines, #vettery, #walmart, #zynga

The Cadillac personal drone is the cadillac of personal drones

GM revealed Tuesday a Cadillac -branded electric vertical takeoff and landing drone concept that is designed — if it’s ever built — to let owners cruise the skies in isolated luxury.

The single seat eVTOL, which was showcased alongside an autonomous vehicle during GM’s keynote presentation at the virtual 2021 CES tech trade show, is the automaker’s first foray into aerial mobility. This is a mere concept, which means it’s unlikely to become a real product. However, these concepts can signal where a company is headed on the design or product front. And when it comes to electric and autonomous vehicles, GM has proven its willingness to invest in the technologies.

“We are preparing for a world where advances in electric and autonomous technology make personal air travel possible,” Michael Simcoe, GM’s global design chief, said during the presentation. “It is a concept designed for the moment when time is of essence and convenience is everything.”

GM electric evtol ces

Image Credits: GM

The eVTOL concept is equipped with 90-kilowatt hour electric motor to power four rotors that can whisk the passenger off of a rooftop to their destination. It also comes with air-to-air and air-to-ground communications capabilities.

Simcoe said the company has more concepts planned, including a “luxurious two-seater designed for you and someone very special to decompress, relax and enjoy a multi sensory experience choreographed for more intimate journeys.”

The entire exercise, as Simcoe explained, is to show the world what autonomy and Cadillac luxury might look like in the “not too distant future.” 

Of course, these concepts are also designed to convey just how serious GM is about the future of transportation, which in its view centers around electrification, automated vehicle technology and connected car services.

#automotive, #cadillac, #ces, #cess-2021, #evtol, #gm, #transportation

Air taxi startup Archer is partnering with automaker FCA on production of its electric aircraft

Archer, a company that’s looking to develop an airline of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for sue in urban transport, will work with automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in a new partnership to benefit from the latter’s expertise in engineering, design, supply chain and materials science. Archer aims to start production of its eVTOLs at scale beginning in 2023, with an initial unveiling to occur early this year.

The new team-up will see FCA provide input that contributes to the design of Archer’s eVTOL cockpit, as well, another area where the automaker has ample expertise, since it has designed spaces for drivers for many decades in its automotive business. Archer’s aircraft will be powered by an electric motor, and will be able to fly for up to 60 miles at top speeds of 150 mph. The Archer eVTOL is designed to be quiet and efficient, with efforts from the FCA collaboration going towards lowering the cost of its manufacturing to make high-volume manufacturing achievable and sustainable.

Ultimately, Archer is looking to FCA to help it realize efficiencies in its process that can make bringing its eVTOL to market a sound business that can also be accessed affordably by end users. Palo Alto-based Archer is looking to ultimately scale production to the point where it can produce “thousands” of its eVTOL aircraft per year, for use in future air taxi services serving cities globally.

Based in Palo Alto and led by co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, and including industry executives like Chief Engineer Goeff Bower, who previously served int hat role at Airbus’ Vahana eVTOL initiative, Archer launched out of stealth earlier this year with backing from Marc Lore, current President and CEO of Walmart’s ecommerce business (he was co-founder and CEO of Jet when it was acquired by the retailer).

#adam-goldstein, #aerospace, #airbus, #airline, #chrysler, #companies, #ecommerce, #engines, #evtol, #fiat, #fiat-chrysler-automobiles, #manufacturing, #marc-lore, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #palo-alto, #startups, #supply-chain, #transportation

Why Florida residents may soon be seeing jet-powered ‘flying taxis’

Florida is renowned for its strange news stories. In recent weeks alone, one resident reported an alligator in her garage that turned out to be a pool floatie; another discovered a python in her washing machine; and a horse needed to be pulled out of a septic tank by firefighters.

Still, don’t dismiss Orlando residents who report seeing flying taxis overhead because they may just be coming. Lilium Aviation, a five-year-old, Munich, Germany-based, venture-backed startup that designs and makes electric vertical take-off and landing jets, is reportedly seeking tax incentives from the city to build a 56,000-square-foot transportation hub with the promise that it will create 100 high-wage jobs in return.

According to the Orlando Business Sentinel, the proposed facility — a takeoff and landing area that would be part of Lilium’s first transportation network in the U.S. — would represent a $25 million investment and, according to the city’s own estimates, generate $1.7 million in economic impact in a 10-year period. (Lilium in September began separately exploring with Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport and Cologne Bonn Airport  how to turn the two airports into regional air mobility hubs.)

It’s seemingly a smart time for Lilium — whose planes aren’t expected to be up and running until 2025 — to be talking with cities about additional airport revenue. Passenger traffic has fallen through the floor, owing to the pandemic, and cargo traffic has not been immune, either. Meanwhile, 95% of revenue from airports comes aeronautical and non-aeronautical services.

Lilium also has a little more spending money, after raising $35 million in fresh funding in June led by Baillie Gifford, the largest investor in Tesla, a round that brought the company’s total funding to date to $375 million.

Earlier investors in the company include Atomico, Tencent Holdings and Freigeist.

We sat down with Atomico founder Niklas Zennström in late 2016 when the firm had just led a €10 million Series A in Lilium, a bet that seemed early at the time despite the existence already of rivals like Terrafugia and AeroMobile, yet that may be a reality fairly soon. Indeed, there are now at least 15 so-called flying cars and taxis in development.

#aerospace, #atomico, #baillie-gifford, #evtol, #flying-taxis, #lilium-aviation, #niklas-zennstrom, #startups, #tencent-holdings, #transportation

Humans Take a Step Closer to ‘Flying Cars’

A Japanese company said it had completed a manned flight of its electrical vertical takeoff and landing machine. Experts say the technology needs work and that it will be expensive.

#automobiles, #electrical-vertical-takeoff-and-landing-machine, #evtol, #flying-cars, #innovation, #japan, #skydrive-inc

Kitty Hawk ends Flyer program, shifts focus to once-secret autonomous aircraft

Kitty Hawk is shutting down its Flyer program, the aviation startup’s inaugural moonshot to develop an ultralight electric flying car designed for anyone to use.

The company, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and led by Sebastian Thrun, said it’s now focused on scaling up Heaviside, a sleeker, more capable (once secret) electric aircraft that is quiet, fast and can fly and land anywhere autonomously.

Kitty Hawk is laying off most of Flyer’s 70-person team, TechCrunch learned. A few employees will be brought over to work on Heaviside, according to the company. Those who are laid off will receive at least 20 weeks of pay, plus tenure, depending on how long they were with the company. Former workers will also receive their annual bonus and have their health insurance covered through the end of the year. The company said it will set up placement services to help people find employment.

In December, the company spun out its Cora project — a two-person, autonomous taxi that Kitty Hawk unveiled in 2018 — into a joint venture with Boeing. The joint venture, newly named Wisk, signed an agreement in February with the New Zealand government to set up and run an air taxi trial in the region of Canterbury, with the goal of flying passengers once its Cora aircraft is certified to do so by the country’s aviation authority.

That leaves Heaviside as Kitty Hawk’s one and only mission — unless the company is working on another secret project, which is possible, considering its history. Heaviside is led by physicist and electrical engineer Damon Vander Lind.

“Going forward, we are doubling down on Heaviside as our primary platform,” Alex Roetter, president of Flyer and Thrun wrote in the blog post published Wednesday. “But we would never have gotten here without launching and learning from Flyer, and the amazing team of people who built and operated it.”

For Kitty Hawk, “doubling down” will mean hiring more people and a singular focus on this aircraft. Kitty Hawk is in discussion with the FAA and other parties to move Heaviside from a prototype to an aircraft that can be broadly used.

The moonshot

Kitty Hawk launched its Flyer program in 2015. The single-seater, all-electric, vertical take-off and landing vehicle is powered by 10 independent lift fans and operates between three to 10 feet off the water. The company’s aim was to make it light and easy to use — a goal it says it achieved.

Kitty Hawk built and flew 111 Flyer aircraft and conducted more than 25,000 successful crewed and uncrewed flights with its fleet, according to the company. Kitty Hawk’s mission for the aircraft is what captured the attention and imagination of industry watchers and the media. It wasn’t going to be another lightweight aircraft meant for pilots. The entire aim was to make it accessible for anyone.

“We proved to ourselves that people could safely operate Flyer — and become a pilot — with less than two hours of training,” Roetter and Thrun wrote. “In a single day, we trained 50 new novice Flyer pilots, none of whom were licensed.”

kitty hawk flyer

The business model proved to be the bigger challenge.

The Flyer flies low and slow over water, narrowing Flyer’s customer base and use cases. Kitty Hawk explored recreational and commuter applications, but failed to find a path to a profitable business.

“No matter how hard we looked, we could not find a path to a viable business,” Thrun told TechCrunch in an email exchange.

In the past five years, the so-called flying car industry — more accurately described as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — has evolved. The aircraft are more powerful and longer-range now. And Kitty Hawk has adjusted.

Heaviside, which was under development for two years before it was revealed at TechCrunch Disrupt in fall 2019, is fast, quiet and can be flown anywhere. The aircraft has a range of 100 miles and can reach speeds of up to 180 mph. It can also fly over cities.

Kitty Hawk Heaviside eVTOL

Heaviside has proven it can fly. The company has been testing Heaviside — a low-slung, orange and black aircraft with eight rotors and a 20-foot wingspan — for more than two years in a secret location in California.

The focus now is building more reliable systems with software and hardware, as well as implementing more manufacturing and quality control systems.

#autonomous-flight, #electric-aircraft, #evtol, #kitty-hawk, #tc, #transportation

The future of flight can be energy-efficient

We are at the dawn of a new era in transportation.

At the turn of the 20th century, cars began to replace horses. Now, a century later, we would like to see mobility move to the sky. Kitty Hawk has built several prototype vehicles that are electrically powered, take off and land vertically and fly in between like a fixed-wing plane. Collectively, these are called eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft.

eVTOLs — such as the ones built by Project Heaviside — show great potential for everyday transportation. With that as an eventual use case, a common question that comes up is: can eVTOL vehicles be green? Specifically, can eVTOL vehicles be more energy-efficient than cars?

Under the EPA’s standard freeway driving test, a 2020 Nissan Leaf Plus uses about 275 Watt-hours per mile when it averages 50 miles per hour. It can comfortably seat four, but its average occupancy is somewhere around 1.6. Thus, the Leaf’s energy consumption is about 171Wh per passenger mile across all trips.

Our current Heaviside prototype uses about 120Wh per passenger mile, and does so at twice the speed of the Leaf: 100 miles per hour (of course, we can fly much faster, if we choose). We can save another 15% of energy because while roads are not straight, flight paths usually are. All together, Heaviside requires 61% as much energy to go a mile.

Why is Heaviside this efficient — doesn’t it take more energy to go faster? Yes, and it makes the high efficiency we’ve achieved even more dramatic. The answer is that Heaviside can take advantage of slim and low-drag aerodynamic forms that are just not practical on cars.

The difference in drag between a clean, aerodynamic shape like the wing section below, and a bluff body like the cylinder, is vast. So vast in fact that the two shapes drawn will have about the same amount of drag.

                                              The cylinder can be hard to see, it’s over here  ↑ 

What is probably less obvious is that clean shapes like wings must make lift when they are put at an angle to the wind. This is not just observation, but can be mathematically proven.

Car manufacturers put tremendous effort into designing shapes that minimize drag, but will not make lift or side force in wind, which would result in poor and squirrelly handling — remember the last time you drove over a bridge in high winds, or in the opposite direction of a large truck on a narrow country road.

When a car drives by, it takes quite a bit of air along with it.

Image Credits: Kitty Hawk

Project Heaviside, in contrast, leaves a small disturbance in the air it passes through.

So, Heaviside is quite energy-efficient. But what if people choose to travel farther when this option exists? What I find personally surprising about the ranges we have been able to achieve is that Heaviside is a vehicle that, because of the extremely low power consumption, is more efficient than a car traveling for an equal amount of time.

This leaves out the most important element of eVTOL aircraft, which is that they are fully electric, and the cars we would like to see them replace are nearly all gas and diesel-powered. While it may be a hard sell to convince the average consumer to switch to an electric car simply because of emissions, it is likely to be much easier to convince them to use a device that gives them time back.

To put this another way, if your commute is the U.S. average of 16 miles, and if you commuted in a Heaviside-type vehicle, three standard rooftop solar panels would power your commute both ways.

While we have a significant road ahead of us in developing and fielding our aircraft commercially, and we cannot be sure the final products will be as efficient as our prototypes, we are still very excited to demonstrate that efficiency and personal flight need not be at odds.

#aerospace, #column, #electric-car, #environmental-protection-agency, #evtol, #flight, #force, #kitty-hawk, #nissan-leaf, #startups, #transportation, #vtol