Alexander Zosel describes himself as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ and very much a self-made man. As one of the founders of the German upstart Volocopter, he inspires his employees with a firm belief in his vision of the mobility of the future in the three dimensions – urban, autonomous and on-demand. His company has soaring ambitions – to help modern cities resolve their increasing mobility issues.
Talking to Auto Futures, Zosel explained more about the Volocopter project and its technology: “”We are developing the world’s first autonomous air taxi to relieve traffic in major cities. The flight taxi will be used as a sustainable, quiet and time-saving mobility-as-a-service solution.”
The Volocopter looks similar to a helicopter. It’s based on drone technology and is battery operated. It’s been flying regularly since 2011 both piloted and autonomous. Zosel believes that the first commercial routes will be up and running in three to five years.
“We have repeatedly proven that the Volocopter really flies. Therefore it is no longer a question of technical feasibility, but a question of time, when air taxis will supplement the traffic in our cities. We have built several Volocopters with which we carry out a test program.”
What sets Volocopter apart from rival concepts?
There are similar projects in development around the world such as the German startup Lilium which is building an electrical vertical take-off and landing jet. But Zosel says his project is designed for downtown flights. “We fly emission-free, very quiet and offer a gentle flight. Already today we have a range of almost 30 kilometers and after a short battery change the journey continues. Already now we could offer reasonable routes, such as the flight from Newark to Lower Manhattan.”
“In addition, our ambitions do not stop at the aircraft. We are already thinking about how to integrate autonomous air taxis into existing public transport networks: A complete mobility service with entire fleets of aircraft.”
The challenges ahead
But questions over safety and regulation plus gaining the confidence of the paying public are all challengers that lie ahead for the robo-taxi market.
“The highest priority in commercial aviation is safety – and above all the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) plays a major role. They put the Volocopter through their paces before it can get the certificate. In addition, the most important is the acceptance of the population,” Zosel told us.
“On the one hand, people want to fly with it – we’re less worried about that. On the other hand, it must not affect people in the streets. That’s why an emission-free, quiet flight is so important to us.”
He adds: “We are in close contact with the European aviation authorities. The approval is one of the biggest milestones that still has to be reached: to define together with the authorities a certification for autonomously flying vertical take-off aircraft, with which Volocopter then can fly in the inner cities.”
So what are the next steps for Zosel and his company? “We need to find partner cities worldwide where we can do demonstration flights and set up the first commercial routes. We are already in talks with cities and potential partners on infrastructure, air traffic management for the lower airspace and of course with the major aviation authorities.”
If Zosel’s vision becomes a reality, one day we’ll all be soaring into the sky in autonomous air taxis at the touch of a button.