Increased mobility is the driver in transport innovation of all kinds - from electric scooters in town, to electric VTOL aircraft.
When it comes to VTOL, billions of dollars are being poured in by the likes of Uber Elevate, Airbus and Boeing...down to starts-up in garages; and significant government and university backed projects.
A number of aircraft are already flying - and are capable of multiple missions, from lifesaving search and rescue, to cargo, to passenger flights. But what unites everyone's goal to get these to market is safety. And over the last 40 years, this has been at the heart of the growth of the aviation industry.
An emphasis on safety
A key development we're seeing now is emergency parachute systems, designed to safely bring down the entire aircraft and its occupants in the event of an in-air emergency. Obviously parachutes are already widely used in military aircraft but have now started to be implemented in general aviation, notably in Cirrus Aircraft's line of light aircraft.
With unmanned aircraft, even more emphasis will be put on what happens when motors or engines fail. Even with multiple propulsion systems onboard (and some concepts have up to 14 motors), certification and commercial reality will rest firmly on safety design. So I see parachute systems coming strongly to the fore.
Many companies are trying to do it all in VTOL: Manufacture, operate and acquire customers. But just to manufacture an aircraft would require $500M to get to market...and if you want to operate it too, and be the acquisition point, you're talking four times the price. Many superb start-ups will fail for that reason - as they don't have the investment to reach the end of their journey.
In many cases, those that succeed will have a more focussed goal. For example one company I've been very impressed with is magniX, who are manufacturing an all-electric propulsion system that can be fitted into existing airframes.
Whole aircraft parachute systems for VTOL
And another one is ASR (Aviation Safety Resources) - who are developing whole aircraft parachute systems that slow the descent of a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft without relying on altitude loss. If I'm right, many more aircraft will begin to use these.
The team at ASR were the winners in a shark tank-style pitch at innovation summit Revolution.Aero last month in San Francisco, and I was a member of the panel. We (and the audience) were very impressed with their plans. Their system, called Xtreme Rapid Deployment, is considered ideal for the 200+ electric and hybrid VTOL designs under development.
When you're backing a startup there are three key factors to bear in mind: Product; Scalability; and People. ASR ticked these boxes for me.
This market is very likely to be huge, so scalability shouldn't be an issue. And they are led by a very experienced team, including Larry Williams, ex-CEO of BRS Aerospace who were instrumental in developing the Cirrus system. So I'll be watching with keen interest as the product continues to be developed.