While eVTOL developers such as Archer, Lilium, Wisk, and Volocopter are capturing much of the available attention and funding in pursuit of passenger transport applications, significant progress is being made toward other uses of the novel aircraft type.
During a virtual panel hosted by McKinsey & Company, participants discussed the potential for eVTOLs to provide societal benefits outside of passenger movement — and for those applications to pave the way for the public acceptance necessary for the larger urban air mobility (UAM) market to take off.
Carl Dietrich, founder of Terrafugia and now Jump Aero, said the use of eVTOLs to improve patient outcomes in emergency response scenarios is the most positive application of the technology that is achievable in the near-term.
“Rapid first response represents the best rate of value creation for advanced air mobility . . . You’re providing a tremendous and easily quantifiable value to society in terms of lives saved and money saved for the health care industry, and you’re doing it with the minimum barriers to entry [from a certification and infrastructure perspective],” Dietrich said.
Jump Aero, still less than two years into its vehicle development program, is designing an eVTOL that will move a medical professional to the scene of an incident — an entirely different role for aviation in emergency medical applications than helicopters that are used for evacuation or patient transportation.
Dietrich intends for his eVTOLs to get first responders to the scene faster than is possible via ground vehicles, particularly in suburban or rural areas.
“We believe that we’re creating the fastest form of transportation to get a human being from point A to any point B between six blocks and 60 miles away, and that the most valuable use case — the case that will bring the most benefit to society the fastest — is first response,” Dietrich added.
Jump Aero has added several employees over the past year, but the company is not yet ready to release specifics regarding its design. Dietrich declined to comment on whether the chosen configuration would be a multicopter, lift-plus-cruise, tiltrotor or other approach, and no renders or graphics have been released to date.
Col. Nathan Diller, head of Agility Prime and the U.S. Air Force’s AFWERX technology accelerator program, said his team is focused on creating interfaces between technology developers and airmen from across the service to identify effective use cases for eVTOLs, autonomy, and other new tech.
“Everything we’re doing is moving personnel or hardware around . . . it’s a question of what personnel, what types of hardware, and what environments we’re looking at,” said Diller. “For us, the real near-term [question] is where can we find immediate cost savings and eventually do some of the cost avoidance with our current operations? That’s something we believe we can do in the very near term and in many cases that’s going to be in austere locations where the threshold for safety and security is lower.”
All panelists agreed that finding use cases for eVTOLs outside of passenger transportation won’t be as simple as replacing helicopters and other existing tools.
“It’s a new type of platform, a new type of vehicle. You have a system [with] new limitations and new capabilities. We cannot just try to replace existing platforms,” said Johnny Doo, lead for NASA’s Transformative Vertical Flight Working Group 4 — Public Services, which now has over 100 members.
“I don’t think that’s going to maximize the effectiveness . . . we need to look at the gaps, where we can make a difference. But we need to get [these aircraft] in trial operations so we can really hands-on learn how to best use it, how to avoid pitfalls, and how to maximize the outcomes.”