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Is it a mega-drone, a flying saucer or a flying pancake that took flight in rural Pierce County, Washington?
The ZEVA Aero ZERO is a clamshell-shaped personal flying machine eVTOL. ZEVA Aero CEO and Chairman, Stephen Tibbitts, tells Auto Futures how he plans to pilot the ZERO to market.
Tibbitts is an engineer and entrepreneur who has launched many technology businesses. He sold his company Silicon Reality to Evans & Sutherland in 1998. After founding and leading PICCO, a semiconductor design consultancy, Broadcom bought it.
He is also a private pilot, EV enthusiast and motorcycle rider. While flying a Cessna 172, he noticed that all the little airports were vanishing in Washington State.
“I see eVTOL as the largest opportunity in a lifetime,” says Tibbitts, “My goal is to ride and fly.”
The company launched in 2017 to enter the GoFly Prize competition, sponsored by Boeing. To meet the contest rules, the aircraft had to fit in an 8 and 1/2 foot sphere. The team designed the flying saucer or pancake shape to maximize every feature.
The company name, ZEVA stands for Zero Emissions Vertical Aircraft. The ZERO gets its name because it has ZERO emissions and looks like a big ‘O’, explains Tibbitts.
“The wing-bodied ZERO design is aerodynamically efficient,” says Tibbitts. The electric batteries are inside the eight exterior propellers for balance. The landing gear below the pancake cockpit provides balance as well.
“Having knowledge of deep tech in both hardware and software is an advantage. Some of our hardware is designed and built in-house. Some is open source. And we customize the firmware.”
In January, the company completed the first untethered, remotely guided test flight of a full-scale ZEVA ZERO for four minutes. The ZERO flew vertically in hover mode. Inside the ZERO was a humanoid dummy named Junior who straddled a seat like a motorcycle. In future flights, the ZERO will fly in forward flight mode at a 10° angle called ‘Alpha’.
“The flight was very successful. We learned a lot. We gained a lot of insight and lots of data,” notes Tibbitts, “The event received worldwide media coverage and interest from the Department of Defense.”
For safety, the ZERO will run without a motor functioning and has a parachute that will deploy when needed.
What is the Market for ZEVA Aero ZERO?
The market for ZERO is two-pronged for emergency services and ultimately for consumers, says Tibbitts. The ZERO is expected to hold up to 220 pounds, fly at 160mph and have a range of 50 miles.
For first responders, ZERO can deliver supplies. It can fly ship-to-shore or for hot extraction. In an emergency, a flight-trained medic could fly the ZERO to deliver care, says Tibbitts.
The current market is for first responders. At some point, ZEVA will make ZERO affordable for personal point-to-point use. Right now, ZERO is good for places where there is no infrastructure or roads, he says.
With no roads in the sky, how could personal flying machines navigate without flying into each other? Auto Futures asked.
“We expect that ZERO flyers will lease airspace from computerized traffic controller so there will be no other aircraft in the space at the same time.”
ZEVA Aero is showing a concept where a ZERO will be vertically docked next to a high rise building via the SkyDock with charging and a gangplank to board and deboard. Then there is no need to land the flying machine, says Tibbitts.
There is a lot of confusion about the types of vehicles/aircraft in the personal micro-aero-mobility space. He noted that ZERO is not a flying car because “when you try to make a flying car, there are too many compromises and it would not be optimal. It would not be a great aircraft and not a great car.”
What is the Future of the ZEVA Aero ZERO?
The expected price for a ZERO is $250,000. ZEVA will start to take reservations soon–on the ZEVA Aero website.
ZEVA Aero completed funding from StartEngine, calling the business a skyrocketing opportunity. ZEVA Aero was awarded a research grant from Washington State’s Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (JACTI).
“Our next step is Series A funding,” says Tibbitts, who expects to be flying a ZERO later this year.