The successful integration of personal air mobility like the one on display at Amsterdam Drone Week is going to depend on the public acceptance of new ways to travel, and that acceptance has to be built on safety. The same expectations around safety that have been built into traveling on a bike or on a bus need to be built into these new means of travel, even though they’ll have to prove to be far safer than those traditional options. A highly dedicated team of over 30 students from multiple faculties of the Delft Technical University is dedicated to creating an environment and ecosystem that will enable that very thing.
Project Talaria is dedicated to developing a working prototype of an innovative personal flying device and to spearhead a revolution in the aviation industry. Their efforts are ultimately focused on enabling an ecosystem that ensures autonomous drones, passenger vehicles and a wide variety of personal flying machines can be interconnected to operate safety in the airspace.
To find out more about what this interconnected ecosystems will look like, we connected with Alexander Essle, Head of Business & Partnerships at Project Talaria. We asked him about how things got started, what he sees as the biggest barriers to moving things forward, when we’ll see real true integration of personal air vehicles into the airspace and much more.
Jeremiah Karpowicz: Tell us a little bit about Project Talaria. When and how did the team come together? Was coming together the result of a specific opportunity or development in the market?
Alexander Essle: Well, Project Talaria is an initiative started by TUDelft students to build a personal flying device. The idea started in October 2017 when Philipp Essle was drawing jetpacks during a lecture and wondered why there was no student team building flying devices in Delft. He then heard from a friend that there was another guy (Trevor Gast) who mentioned the GoFly challenge, a competition for personal flight that was being sponsored by Boeing. They decided to meet and discuss this idea and how they could form a team.
Weekly meetings were soon set up, recruiting, organizing and planning how we could develop and build a personal flying device. The name Talaria came during a workshop we made with all the members and it is the name of the sandals of the messenger God Hermes, which give him his speed and flying abilities.
We came together because we all share a passion for aviation and challenges, joining the GoFly challenge gave us strict deadlines and deliverables that we had to achieve, it has helped tremendously to push the team to the limits.
I personally feel like that it will still take some years before such devices are allowed to fly in urban environments, public acceptance and regulations are the only roadblocks to adoption of this new mode of transport since the technology has been here for some time already.
Tell us about your efforts to create safe “skyways” and landing zones for personal flight. How are they different or similar to other personal flight initiatives?
We are more focused on the device and on the competition for now, but we are working with several professors in the TUDelft on the PAMELA and PAM projects which are proposals to create a flight corridor in Delft to test devices and their impacts on the surroundings. We are also members of PUCA which focuses on unmanned cargo drones (a possible application for our device) and they also want to create flight corridors in the Netherlands.
Would you say that the biggest challenges with the deployment of personal flying device is more about regulation or technology?
It would be 70% regulations and 30% public acceptance. The technology has been here for some time already, everyone is just waiting for the governments to give the green light.
Why is it so important to minimize the noise impact of this technology? Does doing so play into how the general public perceives the technology?
The noise is probably one of the biggest factors holding public acceptance back. Most people already get annoyed when a loud motorbike passes by their house, imagine if there were 1000 devices flying between Rotterdam and Amsterdam every day and if they were very loud. No one would want that.
That is why it is key to build a device that is very quiet and that can fly almost unnoticed.
What are some of the technical challenges you’ve run into in your efforts to develop a device which has zero emission?
Finding the right batteries has been a challenge, we need the lightest possible but also one that can have a huge power output and last for at least 30 minutes. These are criteria’s that rarely walk hand in hand. We are very lucky to have found Spike, a Dutch battery start-up, who was interested in working with us on our battery design.
In what ways are you looking to partner and work with the UAM community?
In any way possible, we are all still students but we are building a flying device that will be operational before the end of 2019.
We are willing to use our device to test skyways, use-cases and business cases once we have made sure the design is safe to fly and received our certifications.
Can you tell us about some of the organizations that you’re working with? What sort of opportunities can or will be enabled as a result of these partnerships?
Since we are a student team in essence and are participating in an international competition, we have quite a few sponsors who are providing incredible support. To mention a few, Additive Industries is working with us to develop a 3D metal printed Titanium hub, which means we will save 50% in weight on the hub as well as make it much stronger.
Spike is building a personalized battery for us which means we will have the optimum power supply.
Cognizant, our main sponsor, is working with us to develop the entire flight software that will make it possible for our device to fly unmanned.
Conrad, SKF and Festo have also been key supporters, allowing us to order many parts and equipment’s that have made it all possible.
There are also many software providers like Dassault Systemes, National Instruments among others who have provided us with licenses to develop and improve our design.v
Is there a particular type of company that you’re focused on partnering with?
We want to partner with people who believe in the potential of the technology and who believe in the team. There are many ways we can work together with companies so that they can develop their own technology for the future UAM economy.
What does the timeline around when we’ll see personal flying devices as part of everyday travel in urban settings look like?
It all depends on the government. It would be optimistic to say we will see everyday travel in about 10 years. It will start with travel for high-end clients and it will take some time before the costs are driven down so that it becomes attractive for larger parts of the population to use this service.
Do you think we’ll see this technology rolled out on a regional basis? Or will that rollout be based more on the environment?
It will be adopted where there are no good alternatives for a fast method of transportation from point A to B.
It will be adopted in cities where the infrastructure struggles with the flow of cars. I come from Brazil and I grew up in São Paulo where over 21 million people live in the metropolitan area. To put that into perspective, that is more than the entire population of the Netherlands. UAM will happen in cities like New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Karachi, Tianjin, Manila, Moscow, Tokyo and Los Angeles. But they will also play a role in rural environments, especially in areas with complicated terrain like mountains, rivers, lakes, wetlands, islands and dense forests.
Europe and the Netherlands have very good and well thought public transport networks and roads, the UAM devices will have to compete against this established infrastructure and it won’t be easy. The best chance for success is to go where the infrastructure is not coping with the demand or is non-existent.
What has you most excited about where things are and where they’re going with this technology?
It’s just awesome to be part of the movement itself, we are on the leading edge and that on itself is already super exciting. The other cool thing about UAM is that you can be creative with the methods of propulsion, shape and size. So, every company or initiative is building their own version and now we get to see which one will come out on top with the best design.
This technology also has amazing use-cases for rescue operations and disaster relief, and the fact that we are developing better ways of saving lives makes this technology worthwhile.
If I’m someone that wants to learn more about the kind of projects you’re going to be working on in the near future, how can I find out more about them or potentially get involved?
You can visit our website at https://talaria.aero/ and send us an email or call our office, we are always there working (even on some weekends).
To get involved you can start a conversation with me by sending an email and I will be more than happy to find the best way we can work together!