Artist rendition of a "non-conventional" platform that could support urban mobility. (Rolls Royce)
While the United Kingdom is poised for the launch of urban air mobility (UAM) there in the next several years, the U.K. also plans to invest in a follow-on generation of electric air taxis and hybrid aircraft.
On July 22, the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the agency for U.K. Research and Innovation (UKRI) said that the government would invest nearly $100 million to launch the next generation of electric vehicles by 2040.
The planned investment is part of the U.K. Industrial Strategy Future of Mobility Grand Challenge to "deliver technologies that will enable the U.K.’s road, rail, maritime and aviation networks to dramatically reduce [carbon] emissions."
Companies and universities will lead the effort to develop the new, power electronics, electric machines and drives (PEMD) technologies, and more than 130 organizations will participate, the U.K. agencies said.
The effort "will strengthen the U.K.’s capability to deliver next generation electric vehicles, hybrid aircraft and smart grids," said Professor Sir Mark Walport, the CEO of UKRI. "It will ensure these industries, both large and small, are rooted here in the U.K. attracting inward investment into our manufacturing base."
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U.K. Business Secretary Greg Clark said "companies like Jaguar and Lotus are choosing the U.K. to develop their new electric vehicles, while Easy Jet and Rolls-Royce have chosen the U.K. to develop their hybrid planes – all recognizing and investing in the expertise and talents of the U.K."
"The U.K. leads the world on combating climate change and is the first major economy to legislate for net zero [carbon emissions]," Clark said.
One challenge for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft is infrastructure, as eVTOL vehicles need vertiports, or vertical airports, as well as landing and recharging pads. One London-based startup, Skyports, has bought a number of rooftop locations in London in preparation for a launch of urban air mobility in the U.K. by 2022 or 2023. In May, Skyports and the German-based Volocopter announced that they would build the first mobile vertiport, a "Volo-Port," this year in Singapore.
Earlier this month, the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD Europe) held the first meeting of its working group on UAM, headed by Hervé Moran, the chief of future platforms at U.K.-based Rolls Royce, and vice-chaired by Airbus.
Moran has said that the industry working group will cover air taxis "but also more broadly air transport in an intra-, peri-, and inter-urban context."
At Rolls Royce, Moran aims to bolster the company's future capabilities by developing partnerships with universities, national laboratories and consulting firms and leading a Future Platforms Team to explore "disruptive concepts" across Technology Readiness Levels 1-7. Such work includes conceptual, detailed design, and prototyping for electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles.