Urban electric aircraft have been a fun topic for several years, yet we also don’t actually have any urban electric aircraft on the market. One day? One of the things that perk up my ears in this field is when a major automaker gets behind a product or buy a startup. After all, automakers are in the business of making and selling millions of complex, heavily regulated, consumer vehicles. On that topic, news this week is that Hyundai Motor Group is more focused than ever on developing “commercial urban and regional air vehicles and surrounding market.” The latter indicates that even if Hyundai Motor Group isn’t developing the vehicles, it is developing components of the vehicles.
Yesterday, the company Supernal unveiled an eVTOL vehicle cabin concept at Farnborough International Airshow. This cabin concept provides “the first look at how Hyundai Motor Group (the Group) is integrating automotive capabilities to develop the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) market.” Supernal has deep roots in Hyundai Motor Group and has partnered with the conglomerate’s design studios on this project. Supernal is currently working to get it first eVTOL aircraft certified for commercial use in the United States. The company hopes to be commercially operating there in 2028. The goal is to then enter the EU and UK soon after that.
What Should an eVTOL Aircraft Look Like and Include?
The partnership with Hyundai Motor Group on the cabin concept is only part of the collaboration, though. “Beyond the vehicle, Supernal is collaborating with external partners and the Group’s more than 50 affiliates — which span automobiles, automotive parts, construction, robotics and autonomous driving — to responsibly co-create the expansive AAM value chain.” There’s no good reason for Hyundai Motor Group and its affiliates to get so involved in this if it’s only viable as a pet project. These are companies that want to see results at scale. That doesn’t mean that Supernal will end up selling cost-competitive eVTOL vehicles to thousands of buyers a year, but it does mean that’s a possibility.
“In order for Advanced Air Mobility to become a wide-spread mode of transportation, every detail — from the passenger experience to regulations and infrastructure — needs to be addressed from the start and work in lockstep with one another,” said Jaiwon Shin, President of Hyundai Motor Group and CEO of Supernal. “Leveraging Hyundai Motor Group’s mobility capabilities, Supernal is investing time and resources upfront to ensure the industry can scale to the masses in the coming decades and reach its exciting potential.”
Despite being designed for the air, the cabin concept just unveiled by Supernal and Hyundai Motor Group shares a few key similarities with that of a car, most notably that it seats 5 people. The design also has features in common with a butterfly, though, as the team employed biomimicry to try to benefit from nature’s vast experience developing small flying organisms.
“Supernal is partnering with Hyundai Motor Group’s top automotive designers to develop our eVTOL vehicle for manufacturability and wide-spread public acceptance,” Shin added. “We are taking the time to create a safe, light-weight commercial eVTOL that provides our future passengers with the security and comfort they find in their own cars.”
“The Supernal eVTOL vehicle draws on the competence of the Hyundai Motor Group and the skillset of experienced automotive designers, which allowed us to develop a new air mobility concept that is not only safe and rational but also highly emotional,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Chief Creative Officer of Hyundai Motor Group. Check out the following video to soak it in via computer-generated visuals:
“Supernal’s five-seat cabin concept provides clues to how the company is harnessing automotive design processes and materials — while meeting commercial aviation’s highest safety standards — to optimize the AAM passenger experience and price-point,” Hyundai Motor Group writes.
“The team of engineers and designers utilized the automotive industry’s reductive design approach to create the light-weight interior cabin, which is made of forged carbon fibre. Ergonomically contoured seats offer a cocoon-like environment for passengers. Deployable seat consoles mimic automobile center consoles and provide a charging station and stowage compartment for personal items. Grab handles built into the cabin doors and seatbacks assist with ingress and egress. A combination of lighting — including overhead lights inspired by automobile sunroofs — adjusts with the various stages of flight to emulate a ‘light therapy’ effect. The cabin layout draws on automotive space innovation with a minimized bulkhead, which allows for generous headroom and package functionalities.”
What do you think? Is it cool? Is it realistic? Is it going to make it to market?
Supernal × NREL × Los Angeles — eVTOL Infrastructure & Network Planning
Notably, Supernal recently landed a partnership with the USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “As a leader in mobility innovation and equity, NREL is well positioned to offer a deeper look into the feasibility and impacts on the broader energy system for this emerging mode of transportation,” NREL Transportation Data Analytics Researcher and Project Leader Venu Garikapati said.
“To inform the plans for a first-of-its-kind public eVTOL network, Supernal and NREL are collaborating with the city of Los Angeles to study this innovative aerial transit mode,” NREL writes. “Throughout this research partnership, NREL will thoroughly evaluate existing and emerging mobility technologies and transportation hotspots and conduct market analysis within the greater Los Angeles area. NREL will use existing and historical travel data to develop a travel heatmap that incorporates travel time, costs, and demand for vertiport candidate locations. Researchers will then leverage NREL’s Mobility Energy Productivity (MEP) metric to characterize, measure, and inform movement to and from vertiports. This metric will highlight the feasibility of the AAM network by quantifying the accessibility of each vertiport location. An accompanying visualization tool will compile NREL’s research data to allow the team to easily view and compare network options in Los Angeles and beyond.”
Six years is a long ways off, and there is much to do for Supernal and Hyundai Motor Group to realize their vision of commercial eVTOL aircraft. Though, they are laying some strong groundwork now in order to potentially do that, and one can’t ask for much more at this stage of the journey.
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