Technology: Inventions related to air taxis: US companies are ahead, German start-ups are catching up
Munich Most of the inventions relating to air taxis still come from the USA. But German companies are rapidly gaining ground in this most important future field. This was the result of a special evaluation by the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA), which is available to the Handelsblatt.
In the past five years, more than 1900 inventions relating to urban air mobility have been registered with the DPMA and the European Patent Office for the German market. “A few years ago, the scenario of flying taxis was not taken very seriously by many,” says DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer.
In addition to the “considerable sums of risk capital that flow into technology”, the rapid development of innovation activity now also shows that this is likely to be an important future market.
Nobody knows yet when and whether a significant number of air taxis will fly over German cities. Some experts are skeptical that all dreams will come true. Some dreams of the stock market have recently been dampened. But the topic fascinates the public and investors.
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So far, US companies have dominated the field. In the past five years, you submitted more than 40 percent of the patent applications with effect for Germany. German companies accounted for 16.5 percent of the inventions.
But the race to catch up is in full swing: Registrations from Germany doubled to 121 in 2020. In contrast, registrations from US companies fell slightly to 224. China and France follow with growth of almost 50 percent.
So-called “Urban Air Mobility” is about expanding urban mobility into the air. Often the developments are so-called multicopters.
According to the patent office, one of the major challenges in the development of such aircraft is the high energy requirement for vertical take-off and landing. A large part of the patent applications therefore relate to systems for energy supply and storage. Many registrations also revolved around additional wings to generate aerodynamic lift when cruising.
Experts expect the sector to become a billion-dollar market. “We estimate that by 2050 there will be up to 160,000 commercial flying taxis in the air,” said Roland Berger partner Manfred Hader. The industry will then generate sales of almost 90 billion dollars.
German companies want to get a good part of this. One of the best-known companies is Lilium, which was floated on the stock exchange in autumn through the merger with an empty shell shell (Spac). “We want to build the first seven-seater whiz in winter 2022,” announced Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand.
Lilium relies on aircraft with 36 small electric rotors. These should be foldable and integrated into the wings of the jet, allowing the flying taxis to take off and land vertically. Competitors like Joby Aviation, on the other hand, work with large, open rotors above the cabin.
Drones as part of the logistics chain
It is still open which technology will be ready to go first and which will prevail. Lilium started at just under ten dollars a share on the Nasdaq, a valuation of 2.8 billion dollars.
Volocopter is one of the German competitors. The Baden-Württemberg air taxi manufacturer recently announced an order for ten passenger and five heavy-duty drones for the new city of Neom in Saudi Arabia.
In October in Hamburg, the developers from Bruchsal had a self-developed heavy-duty drone fly publicly for the first time. Volocopter wants to establish such drones together with the logistics giant DB Schenker as part of the logistics chain.
But German companies don’t just want to develop aircraft. The Munich start-up D3 Technologies wants to develop the traffic control system for urban aviation. This assigns the pilot a safe corridor through which he should fly. An on-board unit maintains contact with the ground station and gives instructions in the event that it is lost.
According to its own information, D3 maintains good contacts with large manufacturers. At Volocopter, there is indeed a need for a UTM (Urban Air Traffic Management) system. “It will be necessary for us to have such a control system,” said the company from Bruchsal. “What the air traffic system will look like is currently still being defined.”
More: Serial founder Gadowski invests $ 100 million in air taxis in China