With urban ground traffic increasingly overloaded by population growth, the number of air vehicles in urban environments is expected to grow dramatically. For Corvin Huber, CEO and cofounder of Skyroads AG, the challenge of building digital roads in the sky to facilitate urban air mobility is one he’s been waiting for.
Huber became passionate about flying from an early age. “Aviation is in my genes,” he says. “I flew an aircraft solo before I had my driver’s license.” He was also fascinated by the idea of being like a bird, with the feeling of freedom afforded by the mastery of the air.
Inspired by his aviation engineer father, he studied aerospace engineering at the Technical University of Munich and went on to manage several aircraft manufacturers, leading some to successful exits in the U.K. and the U.S. “While I enjoyed building beautiful pieces of advanced engineering, I was always disappointed that they only touched a tiny demographic,” he says.
He began thinking about how to extend the usefulness of navigating the third dimension to a significantly larger segment of the population and came up with the idea for Skyroads and a new approach to air traffic management and vehicle guidance. “We need to get away from the traditional notion that only intrepid superheroes can fly,” says Huber. “To do that we need a usability revolution similar to that seen in cellular telephony at the end of the last century.”
Skyroads was founded in 2019 by Huber and a team of entrepreneurs, engineers and industry experts with a shared goal of making flying accessible to everyone by creating an air management system that will enable fully-automated and autonomous passenger and cargo vehicles to fly over well-populated urban areas.
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Combining multiple vehicles of very different performances and operational requirements into one safe, integrated traffic system is a huge undertaking. However, last September, Skyroads reached its first major milestone by proving that its basic architectural concept could be built and operated by commanding drones via an end-to-end system.
It is now building the world’s first flight Test Area in the Munich region of Germany, equipped with a traffic management and vehicle guidance infrastructure that can safely guide very different air vehicle types in a highly automated fashion.
They are also working with a major US West-coast city in an as-yet-unnamed location to set up the first truly urban test operation by 2025.
Huber says: “Urban flying, or Urban Air Mobility, can only develop as a viable form of transportation if it is based on a scalable concept. On the vehicle side, this is achieved by employing carbon-neutral propulsion. Scaling also means that numerous vehicles with different operational requirements can be safely operated in tightly populated air space.”
Different air vehicles from different manufacturers need to be combined into one fail-safe transport system by common digital infrastructure, managing traffic and guiding vehicles along safe routes or trajectories. “Since this technology is as new as the vehicle technology itself, it needs to be implemented at an early point in time to prove itself while the traffic density is still relatively low,” says Huber.
The Skyroads Air Traffic Management and Vehicle Guidance System provides the inherent safety of an integrated design and allows for early adoption into this expanding industry.
“Let’s say several aircraft are cruising along their assigned routes when, out of nowhere, an unplanned ambulance helicopter passes through their path of travel at close range,” explains Huber. “A safe and dynamic reaction is required that doesn’t disrupt the previously determined overall schedule. We model this scenario, and others like it, with appropriately equipped drones to prove that the system’s reaction matches our expectations.”
The company now has a team of 22 skilled professionals and has secured two seed funding rounds with investment from automotive software firm Vector, Flixmobility, Mutschler Ventures and several individual investors. Skyroads is currently planning a Series A round, to be finalized in the second quarter of 2022.
It recently won a $20 million order from broadcast technology provider Riedel Communications to deliver a SKYBOT-CAM system, which will deliver top-class broadcast imagery. This represents the first product iteration for Skyroads’ infrastructure in the sky.
The exact timing is conjecture, but Huber believes the reality of urban air mobility is much closer than many people might think. “Our business case assumes that there will be publicly visible pilot applications for man-carrying Urban Air Mobility from 2026 on,” he says. “Urban Air Mobility will be closer to individualized trams than privately driven cars, so traffic will move more smoothly, directly and efficiently and require fewer detours than we are used to from car-centered mobility,” says Huber. “Urban Air Mobility is coming.”