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Do they know something, we don’t? Or are they just thinking ahead, out of the box — choose whatever cliche you like.
United Airlines just announced it is investing in Palo Alto, Calif., eVTOL startup Archer Aviation and has placed a US$1 billion order for 200 of these electric taxis.
Yes, we all know, this technology has been overhyped.
Let’s face it, ultra-modern eVTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft look great in glossy magazines, but will they ever happen in our lifetime?
Uber, for example, announced in 2017 that it was aiming to launch an eVTOL taxi service in Dallas and Dubai in 2020. Instead, Uber sold off its air taxi efforts to startup Joby in December 2020.
According to a report in ArsTechnica, the idea goes something like this:
A United customer might travel a short distance by car to a nearby “vertiport” — perhaps in a suburban parking lot or atop an urban skyscraper.
Then the customer might fly 20 or 30 miles to an airport in 15 or 20 minutes — a trip that might otherwise take an hour by car.
eVTOL aircraft could also rapidly transport passengers between nearby cities — for example, San Francisco to Palo Alto, Dallas to Fort Worth, or Baltimore to Washington, D.C., the report said.
Of course, it’s theoretically possible to do this by helicopter, and some wealthy people already do.
But advocates argue that electric VTOL aircraft have the potential to be safer, quieter, and much cheaper than a helicopter.
Archer says that its aircraft will produce “minimal noise,” and that the cost will be comparable to an Uber ride, the report said.
Not only are electric motors more reliable than conventional engines, but they’re also light enough that you can put several of them on a single aircraft, offering an extra margin of safety.
The ability to use several motors — together with sophisticated software — means greater design flexibility, opening the door to new types of eVTOL aircraft, the report said.
Archer is also raising money from Stellantis, the company formed by the recent merger of carmakers Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot.
Stellantis will help Archer make the carbon-fiber fuselage for its aircraft. The investments are part of Archer’s plan to become a public company via a merger with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company.
Archer’s first aircraft, due out in 2024, is designed for a range of 60 miles (100km) with a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour (240km/h), the report said.
Initially, the aircraft will require a pilot.
But eVTOL advocates hope that we’ll eventually have software sophisticated enough to steer the aircraft on its own — simultaneously eliminating the cost of paying the pilot and opening an extra seat for a passenger.
Beyond the technical challenges of designing the new aircraft, the eVTOL vision also poses significant regulatory challenges. It takes several years for the FAA to sign off on a new aircraft design.
Moreover, getting urban air transportation to work at scale will likely require an overhaul of the existing air traffic control system — not something that’s going to happen overnight.
According to Global Newswire, the company is led by co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, who recently sold marketplace startup Vettery to The Adecco Group for over US$100 million.
With Lore’s backing, Archer has the capital needed to lead the urban air mobility market, while leveraging Lore’s entrepreneurial perspective.
Lore has a track record of founding ventures to solve consumer pain points.
Most recently, he sold challenger e-commerce brand Jet.com to Walmart for US$3.3 billion. Before starting Jet.com, he sold Quidsi to Amazon for US$550 million.
Archer has attracted top industry talent, with eVTOL visionaries Tom Muniz and Geoff Bower leading engineering.
The team consists of over 40 engineers, including talent from competing eVTOL startups Joby, Airbus Vahana and Wisk.
Muniz, previously the VP of Engineering at Wisk, has been named Archer’s VP of Engineering, while Bower will serve as Chief Engineer, a title he held at Airbus Vahana.
“Archer aims to lead the new third dimension of sustainable travel in urban environments,” said Archer co-founder Brett Adcock.
“Our sights are set on the sky and to get there, we’re focused on hiring the top engineering talent to design, manufacture, and operate a fully electric VTOL aircraft to bring in the new age of transportation.”