Volocopter’s 2X eVTOL records a first with flight at Helsinki International Airport – gpgmail


The Volocopter 2X air taxi vehicle is now the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) craft to fly at an international airport, fully integrated into the same airspace as other commercial passenger craft. It performed this key milestone flight at Helsinki International Airport, in a demonstration mission that showed it successfully integrated with both traditional air traffic management, and air traffic management systems designed specifically for aircraft with no pilot on board controlling the vehicle manually.

The test is intended to show that air traffic management systems which are designed for both traditional piloted flight and autonomous aircraft, including air robotaxis, can operate in concert with one another, even in areas with dense sky traffic – including over cities in future.

Volocopter, which recently unveiled a new version of its eVTOL which it intends to be the version that goes into commercial service once it launches for paying customers, ran tests at Helsinki airport along with AirMap, Altitude Angel and Unifly, all providers of air traffic management services for unpiloted aerial craft. Through the test, they determined that the Volocopter systems work well with each provider, which is a key step towards gaining certification for commercial flight.

The German startup will be flying its 2X vehicle at an event in Stuttgart on September 14, but its next major milestone will be unveiling the new VoloCity commercial craft and its prototype VoloPort take-off and landing facility in Singapore later this year.


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The evolving airspace ecosystem – gpgmail


Imagine a world where drones deliver emergency medical supplies to people in need. Or shuttle commuters from place to place avoiding ground traffic and breaking down the geographical divide between cities and suburbs.

Autonomous drones could spray pesticides on crops, monitor construction sites, or film adventure seekers skiing down mountains.

Potential drone applications are limited only by our imaginations… and our ability to operate them safely.

Right now the FAA is working together with the tech industry to build new rules of engagement to ensure that these unmanned aerial vehicles avoid a collision without the eyes of human pilots.

These regulatory hurdles are the last obstacle to letting the market for autonomous drones soar.

The current airspace ecosystem

Aircraft, from Cessna 152s to Airbus 380s, are the most common vehicles that populate and cruise the airspace. And they all require a pilot’s eyes to operate.

In the case of commercial aircraft, they also require a Mode C Transponder, which determines the aircraft’s altitude. All commercial and most private aircraft also have to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC), people on the ground who logistically coordinate which aircraft taxi, take off, and land at airports.

This is a system with three layers of protection and vigilance to avoid horrific and often fatal crashes: ATC, Mode C, and the pilot’s eyes. With unmanned aircraft, this universally accepted system for keeping the National Airspace System safe will have to change.

Digitizing the airspace for drones flown by artificial intelligence

Objects that don’t have humans on board can’t use eyes to avoid collision, or communicate and listen to ATC. As a substitute for humans and eyes, these vehicles must rely on several new systems, largely using artificial intelligence. And these systems will require that the current ecosystem operate digitally in real time.

In the very near future, Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) hopes to seamlessly integrate with today’s version of ATC. 

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Image courtesy of Getty Images

UTM strives for the digital sharing of each user’s planned flight details with the goal for each user (e.g. “pilot”) to have the same situational awareness of the airspace. That way, as drones navigate the skies they will know whether or not they’re impeding any other traffic in the sky. Companies like Airmap and Unifly are working on such systems. While UTM is a great idea, it’s hard to standardize such a system because it will be nearly impossible to convince or require 100 percent of manned pilots to use it. There will always be non-cooperative aircraft, just like there will always be automobile drivers who do not wear their seat belts even though the benefits of doing so are obvious and compelling.

Therefore, we will need to aggregate other layers of safety on top of UTM to ensure our airspace is safe. Specifically, the Mode C Transponder will be updated to an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) sensor. This enhanced sensor transmits aircraft-to-aircraft and provides significant additional real-time precision to help both pilots and controllers achieve shared situational awareness.

As the last critical layer of safety and redundancy, if for whatever reason a manned aircraft pilot doesn’t enter her flight path in the UTM system or the aircraft doesn’t have a working ADS-B sensor, both common scenarios, the drone needs to have an equivalent to the pilot’s eyes to avoid another flying object.

TessHatch EvolvingAirspaceEcosystem graphic02 revised

Bessemer portfolio company, Iris Automation has developed a system that provides drones with eyes in the sky. The system uses a small module with a camera that feeds into a real-time, onboard computer vision and deep learning algorithm to detect, track, classify, and if needed, avoid, other objects in the airspace to keep the drone safe throughout its flight.

At present, Iris is the only company with an FAA beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) waiver and is the only certified detect and avoid (DAA) system in the market. The BVLOS system doesn’t require a visual observer on the ground and the entire system fits into the palm of your hand, weighing only 350 grams.

The wild blue yonder of drone ubiquity

One day drones will ubiquitously operate in our airspace preventing disasters and making our lives safer, easier, and better. They’ll put out fires, deliver late night take out, and inspect our infrastructures such as bridges, railways, and pipelines.

In order for all this to happen, it will be necessary for pilots, drone users, manufacturers, and the FAA to embrace and use this new digital technology and ecosystem. When they do, the virtually endless possibilities associated with drone technology can be realized in a way that will make the skies even safer.


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Lux Capital just closed on a whopping $1 billion in capital, doubling the amount of money it manages – gpgmail


When founders think about the venture firms most likely to invest in space or robotics or other bleeding edge technologies, a handful of firms tend to jump immediately to mind.

One of these is Lux Capital, a venture capital firm that has offices in New York and Menlo Park, Ca., and whose bets include Zoox, the robotics company that’s trying to pioneer autonomous mobility as-a-service; Bright Machines, a manufacturing startup that aims to eliminate manual labor from manufacturing electronic devices; and AirMap, an airspace intelligence platform for drones.

While one might argue whether Lux has bolder ambitions than its venture competitors, its consistent messaging — it says it invests at the “outermost edges of what is possible” — has enabled it to carve space for itself in an increasingly crowded market of investors.

It also just helped the firm secure $1.1 billion in capital commitments across two funds, including a $500 million early-stage fund and a separate $550 million opportunity fund that it will use to support its breakout investments.

Fortune reported on the two funds earlier today.

Even during a time when billion-dollar funds have become routine, the amount of money is notable. Lux last had closed its previous, early-stage fund with $400 million in 2017, a fund that had brought its total assets under management to $1.1 billion. That was across its then 17-year history.

The firm, now 19 years old, just doubled that amount.

No doubt the sale of the surgical robotics company Auris Health helped toward that end. Lux was part of the company’s $34.4 million Series A round in 2014 (and part of subsequent rounds); presumably, it saw a nice return when Auris was acquired for $3.4 billion in cash to healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson in February.

Other deals, like Desktop Metal, a four-year-old that designs and markets metal 3D printing systems, have meanwhile seen their valuations soar, even if they haven’t sold or gone public.

As part of the new fund, Lux has brought aboard Deena Shakir as a partner. Shakir was formerly an investor with Alphabet’s venture arm, GV.

Earlier this year, another of Lux’s partners, Renata Quintini, transitioned to a role as venture partner as she raises a venture fund with fellow venture capitalist Roseanne Wincek, long of IVP.


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FAA Allows Hobbyist Drone Pilots to Get Automated Airspace Approvals


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Hobbyist drone flyers must abide by a large and sometimes confusing set of rules about where they can and can’t fly. Applications like Airmap and Kittyhawk have become indispensable tools for planning legal flight paths. However, flying near airports and many other types of infrastructure has required a cumbersome process of notification by telephone or manual requests for approval — until now. As of this week, the FAA has opened up the LAANC system (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) to recreational flyers. Currently, 591 US airports support LAANC, with more being added.

The need for extending the LAANC system to hobbyists was made more critical with the recent changes to FAA regulations, which now require active approval in cases that before only required notification. If nothing else, swamping air traffic controllers and airport personnel with phone calls every time someone wants to fly a droneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce nearby isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time.

Requesting Authorization Using LAANC

The process for getting authorization starts by creating a flight plan in an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk; both are free to recreational users, and both also offer a web interface in addition to mobile apps. If the flight plan includes flying near an airport that supports LAANC, you’ll be offered the option to request clearance when you finalize the flight.

You’ll need to supply the make, model, and weight of your drone, along with the altitude you’re planning, your name, and a phone number where the airport can send you a text message if they need to. Altitude does matter, as depending on where you want to fly, automated approval may only be available at lower altitudes than the maximum 400 feet.

Once you've submitted all your information you'll receive an automated response via text message

Once you’ve submitted all your information you’ll receive an automated response via text message

Being a bit skeptical after a lot of previous promises of this type of capability, I decided to try it for myself. I created a simple flight plan near San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in Airmap on the web. The first time I submitted it was rejected as I hadn’t realized I needed to add a phone number. Once I added that, the request was approved nearly instantaneously. I picked SFO because our smaller, local airports show that they don’t yet have an automated approval system in place.

A Note About Drone Flight Planning

Using a map that shows airspace restrictions is an essential part of responsible drone flying. Even if you know you’re aren’t near an airport, power plant, or other critical infrastructure, an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk will alert you to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) caused by emergency responders, fires, police actions, or other transient events. Personally, I’ve found Airmap supports detailed maps not just here in the US, but when I’ve been flying my drone overseas as well.

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