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Volocopter is preparing to fully simulate and test its VoloIQ digital platform in the coming months — ahead of demonstrating the technology within the next two years, the company told eVTOL.com.
Klaus Seywald, Volocopter’s head of digital products and strategy, said that parts of the system, such as its flight data analytics module, are already in use in flight tests for the VoloCity, VoloDrone and VoloConnect platforms.
“Our short-term target is to simulate the end-to-end VoloIQ test campaign, covering the entire customer journey and aircraft operations,” Seywald said. “And then it’s about testing, testing, and more testing, to be ready for launch in Paris and Singapore.”
Volocopter plans to launch its VoloCity platform in those cities in 2024, with VoloIQ being part of this process.
“Before we launch, we will also integrate with the local stakeholder ecosystem,” he added.
The digital platform will comprise a wide range of modules, he said, from booking and e-commerce to scheduling, operational planning and maintenance, with individual product teams driving the development of these modules.
The system will likely launch in phases, he said, beginning with crewed or remotely-piloted iterations of the VoloCity and VoloDrone before expanding into additional phases for greater functionality, ultimately moving toward autonomous flights.
No existing system or digital platform can handle the complexity and scale of the operations Volocopter envisions for the future, Seywald said. By 2035, the company aims to scale its business and operate hundreds of aircraft above global megacities, comparable to the fleet sizes of many global commercial airlines today, he said. This could generate about a petabyte of data per day, equal to 2,000 years of MP3-encoded music.
“We will require real-time decisions and the transparency of our fleet, crew, batteries, vertiports, airspace, and more that the legacy aviation management systems do not support,” he said. “An integrated digital platform — our VoloIQ — is a key pillar of our UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem for eVTOL services to succeed globally and at scale.”
VoloIQ was conceptualized in April 2020 and introduced to the public in October of the same year. The key focal points are digitization, supporting safety to the highest certification levels of commercial aircraft, and having the flexibility to add and support third-party applications through a plug-and-play approach.
The company partnered with Lufthansa Industry Solutions (LHIND) and Microsoft Azure cloud to create the system.
Developing the new platform “poses an opportunity and sometimes a necessity to challenge the conventional approach and overcome new challenges that these innovations create,” Seywald said.
For example, it involves defining a stable and scalable system architecture, ensuring interoperability with many other parties, such as various vertiport developers, and defining clear standards.
Other focus areas are the need to adapt the system for adoption in different locations. Feasibility studies must be conducted in new countries, as some cloud services are not yet globally available. The handling of data and data sovereignty is another key focus.
“Many new technologies are available in the market, but they have not been vetted yet to aviation standards, especially for mission or safety-critical processes or decisions,” Seywald added. “We must align closely with regulators to find the means to certify and apply these technologies to our use cases — like with the certification of AI [artificial intelligence].”
However, the company is confident that novel certification approaches, such as runtime assurance, which monitors and identifies unexpected behavior, will support the introduction of these technologies.
“We started developing our digital backbone very early,” Seywald said. “This allows us to learn with trial and error and have agility in testing and developing modes to make sure our products are already very robust by the time regulators start joining the process.”
The company is looking to a future of autonomous flight, Seywald said, though this will depend on the location in question and regulatory bodies.
“Once autonomous flights are cleared as a commercial option to fly passengers, VoloIQ will take on an even more important role in autonomous flight trajectory generation and sense and avoid capabilities,” he said. “All functions will need to be operating to the highest safety standards and will be certified accordingly.”
AI will play a role in autonomous operation, with the company planning to begin training the AI algorithms long before autonomous operations commence.
“The sensor data from crewed and remotely piloted flights around the world will be used to validate our algorithms,” he said. “This combination of real-life and simulated data will help us test and refine a variety of models, which will eventually enable Volocopter to replace a pilot onboard and take the leap toward autonomous flights.”
Volocopter is looking to maximize efficiency and technological progress for the emerging industry, and interoperability with VoloIQ would enable systems, solutions, and infrastructure to be used across multiple players, Seywald said. This means that each participant can focus on providing their core competencies instead of creating digital solutions from scratch.
“The VoloIQ is an open digital platform that will also allow third-party interfaces, such as other apps or mobility providers, to connect more stakeholders in the ecosystem,” he said. “Since VoloIQ benefits from a highly modular architecture and aims for interoperability, there will be multiple levels of integration possible.”