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Taking Autonomous Mobility From the Ground to the Air

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This week at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress 2021, an innovative, fully-electric drone took to the skies of Hamburg, Germany, presented by Volocopter, the pioneer of urban air mobility (UAM). Volocopter seems to be on its way to making the public’s dreams of automated flight in cities a reality, with solutions like the heavy-lift cargo aircraft, the VoloDrone, demonstrated at ITS and air taxis like the VoloCity and VoloConnect for urban routes. The company is not only delivering an impressive suite of technology innovations but also charting new territory with the regulation bodies that establish standards for autonomous urban air travel.

This year, Micron celebrates 30 years of commitment to the automotive market, and though we’re proud of our history in mobility, we’re always looking to the future. Micron’s relationship with Volocopter is a great example of how we work with leading innovators. These relationships help Micron and our customers push the boundaries of what technology can deliver and what is possible in the future of transportation. Through close collaboration with Volocopter, Micron is able to identify next-generation product requirements that will depend on innovative memory and storage solutions — including solutions that will be used in these revolutionary electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

Volocopter offers a bird’s-eye view on the future of mobility

Volocopter contends that urban transportation infrastructures (think: roads, subways, train tunnels and tracks) are not keeping pace with ever-rising populations in cities around the globe. It views solutions like electric air taxis and cargo drones as new, sustainable alternatives to transportation systems overburdened by modern urbanization.

“We are rising to the challenges faced by cities all over the world by creating additional solutions to meet the needs of rapidly increasing urbanization,” said Volocopter CCO Christian Bauer. “Together with our partners, we will open up a whole new perspective on urban mobility with our electric solutions and the ecosystem in cities to support shared air taxi services. By flying over cities, we make room on the streets. By connecting key points in cities in the process, we can bring people closer together while promoting sustainable solutions and a fantastic new mobility experience.”

Volocopter’s technologies are part of the emerging field of UAM, which is a subcategory of advanced air mobility (AAM). While AAM covers automated aviation systems for people and goods, UAM focuses on how these advanced aircraft can thrive in and around cities.

Volocopter is a true pioneer in the delivery of UAM solutions. In fact, a 2011 flight by the firm was the first piloted eVTOL flight in aviation history. Volocopter has executed more than 1,000 test flights, including recent public flights in Oshkosh (2021), Paris (2021), Singapore (2019), Helsinki (2019) and Dubai (2017). At the same time, the company has been a leader in adhering to policies that are emerging to govern autonomous flight.

What does it take to “take to the skies”?

In addition to surmounting technical challenges, companies seeking to commercialize UAM must also satisfy regulatory standards. The development of UAM technologies for use in Europe is governed by guidelines issued by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which necessitate that, by 2030, UAM systems generate no local CO2 emissions. Volocopter reports that their aircraft therefore operate 100% electrically, producing no emissions in flight, while still being capable of carrying impressive loads (up to 200 kg) and traveling within an optimal radius from the point of take-off for intracity transport (40 km).

Air taxis and cargo drones could contribute substantially to urban life, with the EASA forecasting benefits such as safer, faster and more sustainable mobility. But getting urban air travel off the ground is not easy, as the EASA has directed that several factors must be accounted for in designs:

  • Safety and security
  • Noise and environmental impact
  • Integration with existing infrastructure
  • Approval by relevant governing bodies
  • Public acceptance

Further, autonomous aircraft face challenges similar to those for other types of autonomous vehicles. For example, they will depend on not only artificial intelligence and 5G connectivity within the aircraft, but also on a web of interwoven intelligent edge applications and infrastructure to enable, guide and coordinate the aircraft as they fly. As with many of the transformations occurring throughout the world today, air taxis and cargo drones like Volocopter’s are made possible by the growing ubiquity of high-performance and cost-effective compute, memory and storage.

It takes a village to enable urban air mobility

Volocopter says that recent advances in processors and sensors, battery technology and lightweight construction materials have made UAM solutions feasible. Collaborations and partnerships with companies that have expertise in these areas are necessary to take their solutions to the next level.

Micron has made a strategic investment in and been an advisor to Volocopter, in part to better understand the requirements of day-after-tomorrow vehicles that inform the development of future Micron technologies. In turn, Volocopter gains a better understanding of how to maximize the benefits of Micron memory, storage and accelerators in their products.

“New technology requires an expert team with diverse skill sets,” says Arnaud Coville, CTO of Volocopter. “Volocopter’s strategic investors and advisors, like Micron, help accelerate our mission to launch this unique mobility service. And Micron is, of course, a great potential technology partner due to its leadership in core memory and storage technologies and a proven, decades-long track record of developing best-in-class products for the transportation industry.”

Volocopter also views Micron’s edge-ready memory and storage solutions as key to enabling on-the-ground intelligent edge applications, such as radar, that will be crucial to the operation of autonomous aircraft.

“Autonomous flight will be a major game changer for UAM operations and scalability in the future. Volocopter knows that and is preparing for that with our aircraft designs,” says the company’s Head of Autonomous Flight Florian-Michael Adolf. “AI capabilities to keep operations safe and rugged, as well as reliable edge infrastructure that effectively uses space and energy, like the solutions Micron is developing, will be pivotal for promoting this next era of mobility in living, operating UAM ecosystems worldwide.”

Relationships with innovators like Volocopter give Micron key insights into future real-life applications and their associated requirements, and they help us build better products today and design better products for tomorrow. They play a pivotal role and are a great representation of our dedication to helping customers succeed.

Together, we can take mobility solutions to new heights

Most mobility conversations revolve around autonomous driving; however, Volocopter thinks that autonomous air taxis will become ubiquitous before autonomous driving. Volocopter anticipates commercial flights in Paris and Singapore within the next two to three years, with the delivery of autonomous aircraft and the software and infrastructure ecosystems to enable their operation. Realization of this vision will enable completely new opportunities to improve logistics, infrastructure, public services, agriculture and forestry in environments where classic transport is reaching its limits.

We at Micron are inspired by Volocopter’s mission to enable an entirely new mobility paradigm. We’re hopeful that “flying taxis” — AAM and UAM — will begin appearing and improving our lives soon and that they will be built using Micron memory and storage. As the market leader in automotive memory and storage,1 there’s a good chance they will be.

1Gartner Research Report: Market Share: Semiconductors by End Market, Worldwide, 2020

For more on Volocopter’s urban air mobility solutions, visit volocopter.com.

For more on Micron’s leading memory and storage solutions for automotive, visit micron.com/automotive.

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