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, evtolinsights.com 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.
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(Top graphic image: Fraunhofer’s ALBACOPTER)