Fraunhofer’s Albacopter: The Future of Sustainable Urban Air Mobility

What is so refresh­ing about the Urban Air Mobil­i­ty (UAM) mar­ket is its nascen­cy. Just as in the ear­ly days of motor car devel­op­ment, it has not been cor­rupt­ed or suf­fo­cat­ed by red tape… yet, allow­ing enter­pris­ing engi­neers, sci­en­tists and Heath Robin­son acolytes to have a go at cre­at­ing their own eVTOL or VTOL Air­craft, where the imag­i­na­tion can run wild and the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less.

Last week, had a look at the Link­er, a high­ly imag­i­na­tive take on a 4–6 seater eVTOL, designed by Joowon Lee as a grad­u­a­tion project dur­ing his time at the Hongik Uni­ver­si­ty in Seoul, South Korea.

In fact, Uni­ver­si­ties and Insti­tu­tions around the world have jumped onboard the UAM indus­try with enthu­si­asm and verve. It is an ide­al avenue for bud­ding engi­neers and sci­en­tists to make a mark.

The lat­est to achieve this is the Ger­man Fraun­hofer Insti­tute based in Dres­den. Under the name the ALBACOPTER Light­house Project, six Fraun­hofer insti­tutes have unit­ed to address the tech­ni­cal and soci­etal chal­lenges linked with UAM.

Spear­head­ed by the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Trans­porta­tion and Infra­struc­ture Sys­tems IVI, researchers have devel­oped an air­craft inspired by the alba­tross bird, designed for remark­ably effi­cient glid­ing. This inno­va­tion and oth­er high­lights were show­cased dur­ing the recent IAA MOBILITY trade show in Munich (Sep­tem­ber 5th to 8th), where the insti­tute invest­ed in a large stand.

Prof. Hol­ger Hansel­ka vis­its the joint Fraun­hofer booth

On open­ing day, the Pres­i­dent of the Fraun­hofer-Gesellschaft, Prof. Hol­ger Hansel­ka, and the Exec­u­tive VP for Research Infra­struc­tures and Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion, Prof. Axel Müller-Groel­ing, vis­it­ed the joint booth. Fraun­hofer IVI Direc­tor and ALBACOPTER project man­ag­er, Prof. Matthias Klingn­er, pre­sent­ed the cur­rent devel­op­ment sta­tus of the exper­i­men­tal air­craft to an enthu­si­as­tic crowd.

In fact, the show which empha­sised future mobil­i­ty, was a major suc­cess attract­ing over 500,000 peo­ple as well as 300 world pre­mieres and inno­va­tions; 750 exhibitors from 38 coun­tries; and 3,700 jour­nal­ists from 82 coun­tries.

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The Insti­tute has looked at the present chal­lenges fac­ing UAM and then cre­at­ed solu­tions. One per­ceived major dif­fi­cul­ty is the lim­it­ed range and pay­load capac­i­ty due to a craft’s low effi­cien­cy and ener­gy stor­age.

To resolve these issues the Insti­tute has designed a fly­ing plat­form, com­bin­ing both mul­ti­copter agili­ty with glid­er-like effi­cien­cy. The ALBACOPTER’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures include sus­tain­able mate­ri­als, high-per­for­mance propul­sion sys­tems, advanced mul­ti-sen­sor sys­tems and an AI-based autopi­lot.

The IAA MOBILITY Fraun­hofer Stand

The craft also has been designed with sus­tain­able mate­ri­als includ­ing biopoly­mer hard foam for trans­porta­tion con­tain­ers and pul­trud­ed fibre-rein­forced ther­mo­plas­tics for the space frame fuse­lage, enabling recy­cla­bil­i­ty. The propul­sion sys­tem employs high-speed syn­chro­nous motors with mul­ti-stage trans­mis­sion and high pow­er den­si­ty, an effi­cient alter­na­tive to direct dri­ves, devel­oped by Fraun­hofer ICT.

To ensure safe­ty, the ALBACOPTER utilis­es robust, light­weight, high-per­for­mance mul­ti-sen­sor sys­tems and sin­gle-pho­ton LiDAR detec­tors devel­oped by the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Micro­elec­tron­ic Cir­cuits and Sys­tems IMS. AI sys­tems facil­i­tate seman­tic 3D envi­ron­men­tal recon­struc­tion, enabling inno­v­a­tive func­tions like autonomous (emer­gency) land­ing. A fail-safe RISC‑V on-board elec­tri­cal sys­tem archi­tec­ture, con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing, sta­ble 5G com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and a redun­dant autopi­lot sys­tem meet high reli­a­bil­i­ty require­ments for UAM.

The ALBACOPTER serves as a demon­stra­tor for Fraun­hofer tech­nolo­gies, which is hoped, will gain promi­nence in the aero­space and logis­tics sec­tors over the present decade. It val­i­dates VTOL tech­nolo­gies includ­ing hybrid copter-glid­ers and mul­ti­copters with retractable wings and piv­ot­ing rotors. The research involves exten­sive test­ing using flight mod­els, wind tun­nels, iron bird test rig struc­tures and XiL sys­tem sim­u­la­tions.

A scaled ver­sion with a 7‑metre wingspan and a pay­load capac­i­ty of around 25 kilo­grams is to launch lat­er this year, with com­pre­hen­sive flight tests slat­ed for ear­ly 2024.

For more infor­ma­tion

(Top graph­ic image: Fraun­hofer­’s ALBACOPTER)

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