Transportation in new realms

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Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Volocopter, Schwarzmüller

German company Volocopter wants to use electrically powered drones to transport people and goods in the air. This could become reality in around two years, since the technology is already mature and many investors support the idea. Now all that’s missing is certification so the aircraft can be allowed in cities.

Simply lift off from the ground and transport goods through the air: VoloDrone, the cargo drone from Volocopter, can do exactly that. The much-hyped German aviation company is making an exciting new form of mobility possible with its electrically powered aircraft. In the future, people and goods in the city should be able to fly quickly, safely and with zero emissions. This will free up space on the roads, relieving urban traffic on the ground. Volocopter has so far developed three models: VoloCity flies people safely to their destination in the city. The slightly larger VoloRegion can carry more people, fly longer distances and is also faster. VoloDrone is designed to carry loads as a cargo drone. All models are based on drone technology, can fly autonomously and take off and land vertically – the space they need for this is extremely small compared to conventional airports and their runways.

Not replacing road traffic, but offering added value

Can it be used to move traffic into airspace? “Volocopter doesn’t want to replace transportation in urban areas, but instead to complement it,” says Helena Treeck, Head of Public Relations at Volocopter GmbH. “We are also not looking to make cars obsolete. But our aircraft can add value in many places.” That’s especially true in the cargo sector, wherever transportation reaches its limits, for example due to ground conditions or topography: “If you think about fjords in Norway, transports on oil rigs or from the coast to a ship and back, technology can make a lot possible.”

»Volocopter doesn’t want to replace transportation in urban areas, but instead to complement it.«

Helena Treeck, Head of Public Relations at Volocopter GmbH

The VoloCity “air taxi” for transporting people is especially useful on routes through cities that were developed historically. “In the City of London, you have the Thames and old streets – you can’t simply convert or relocate them. And even an underground train can only run at a certain frequency; capacity is simply limited,” Treeck says. But VoloCity can transport travellers from the airport to the city in 20 minutes – a route that would take them almost two hours by taxi in London due to traffic jams.

A new standard

The technology is mature, but the legal framework for the use of drones in normal traffic has not yet been set up. Certification for use in inner cities is still needed before Volocopter can launch nationwide. “We have been working with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency for five years now,” explains Helena Treeck. “Since our aircraft are brand new, we are also certifying to a new standard, and the process is as challenging as that sounds. But we’re already on the home stretch. Volocopter is therefore not a dream of the distant future, either. We expect commercial use to be possible in the next two years.”

»Volocopter is not a dream of the distant future. We expect commercial use to be possible in the next two years.«

Helena Treeck, Head of Public Relations at Volocopter GmbH

And many people believe in Volocopter’s idea and technology. Valued at 1.5 billion euros in spring 2022, investors gave 182 million euros in the latest round of financing alone. The money will primarily go toward the VoloCity certification and the opening of the first commercial routes. These routes are planned for metropolises such as Singapore, Rome, New York and Paris, where tests are already underway in some cases. A “Vertiport” was opened in Paris in November 2022, where the aircraft can be tested and further developed under real conditions.

Trailer becomes a takeoff and landing site

In addition to the aircraft themselves, a special infrastructure is needed, which Volocopter is also setting up: the “VoloPort” takeoff and landing site, for example, can be located on the roofs of high-rise buildings. Commercial vehicle manufacturer Schwarzmüller has collaborated with Volocopter on converting a trailer into a “Mobile Vertipad” – a mobile take-off and landing platform for an electrically powered heavy-duty drone. In this process, a loading container is built onto the chassis and the trailer can unfold into a 20-metre-diameter circular plate at the push of a button.
VoloDrone currently has a range of 30 to 40 kilometres before the batteries need to be replaced, which takes about five minutes. With further development of battery technology, the Volocopter team expects higher ranges and the power to carry more load. Today, VoloDrone can hold up to 200 kilograms in the size of a standard pallet.

A new type of mobility

According to Helena Treeck, Volocopter will have to fit into cities and their established operations as a new type of mobility. “In the future, you will be able to choose to use public transportation, a car-sharing service, an e-scooter or a Volocopter,” she says. “The important thing is that everything is properly integrated.” In the beginning Volocopter’s priority will be point-to-point connections that fly to transportation hubs. “It will initially be another way to get from point A to point B and in about a decade it will be a normal part of our cityscape.”
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