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Electric VTOL aircraft are coming: money is flowing to several startups developing different designs


Battery energy density is starting to get high enough to allow for electric air travel, and several companies, increasingly backed by significant investors, are now seriously working on bringing electric aircraft to market. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO, Larry Page, was financing two separate startups with over $100 million to compete in developing their own electric aircraft designs.

Airbus is also investing in a VTOL electric aircraft to create an autonomous, zero-emission air taxi service, and now another startup developing a similar aircraft announced today that they have secured €10 million from Atomico, an important global venture capital firm based in London.

The startup in question is Lilium Aviation, a Germany-based company founded in 2015 by four aerospace engineers and product designers, and it is developing the Lilium Jet, the electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft concept seen in renderings above and below.

Electric propulsion and vertical take-off and landing would enable air travel to be brought a lot closer to populated areas instead of necessitating relatively remote airports, making the vehicles’ flight requirements more similar to helicopters’.

With current air travel, a lot of time and energy are dedicated to getting passengers to the airport and to the aircraft gaining altitude and later descending. VTOL aircraft will allow crews and passengers to save a significant amount of time in those parts of air travel, and electric propulsion has the potential to reduce fuel and maintenance costs and to open air transport to more people and more services.

Here are some more concept renderings:

Lilium wants to create the vehicle that will enable people to create new types of transport services based on air transport:

“We will see businesses spring up around the Lilium Jet, offering air taxi services and other new models of transportation. Lilium passengers of tomorrow are the people using ride-hailing and car sharing apps today, not private jets.”

The €10 million Series A funding round with Atomico will help Lilium Aviation’s ~40-person team complete its latest working prototype for flight testing in the coming months:

The company describes the propulsion system:

“The 600kg two-seater will be lifted vertically by 36 electric-ducted fan engines. With the fan engines directed downwards, the jet hovers and climbs until the fans are turned backwards slowly, which transitions the plane into forward flight.”

The electric VTOL aircraft space is starting to get really interesting. In addition to Lilium, Larry Page’s startups appear to be moving forward with their own aircraft designs.

A prototype believed to be from one of his two startups, Zee.Aero, was spotted just over a month ago:zee-aero-vtol-aircraft

Kitty Hawk, the other startup backed by Google’s founder, is also moving forward and even recently hired a production manager from Tesla, possibly indicating that it is closer to bringing its aircraft design to production.

Airbus’ subsidiary A³ (pronounced “A-cubed”), based in Silicon Valley and led by CEO, Rodin Lyasoff, who formerly was a Lead Engineer for Flight Software and Simulation at Zee.Aero, is going to test its own electric VTOL aircraft under the ‘Vahana’ project next year.

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