Roadmap to sustainable air mobility

OCTOBER 16, 2018

Archer’s mission is to advance the benefits of sustainable air mobility

Critical to the mission is helping to fix the traffic problem within cities and move to a fully renewable transportation solution. This is an undertaking that will require a tremendous amount of effort and it will take decades for us to have a profound impact on the world. For an entrepreneur, this is one of those “hard world” problems - high capital costs, advanced hardware technologies, long timeline, and an overall very challenging business with low chances of success. We are in the early days, but if successful, there's an ability to build one of the most significant businesses in the world and more importantly help drive the world to a zero emissions future.

Over the last 10 years there have been tremendous advancements in electric power systems. Technologies have advanced far enough to build a new class of electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that use multiple rotors, giving them inherent redundancies and making them safer to operate. These electric aircraft take off vertically like a helicopter, fly forward like an airplane, and will be 100% electric. There is no runway required and the vehicles can land vertically on a traditional helicopter landing pad or retrofitted landing site - this means these vehicles can fit into the fabric of cities without the need for long airport commutes. They will be operated within cities to solve really hard challenges around traffic congestion, sustainability, ground infrastructure, and public safety.

Today half of the world lives in cities and the United Nations projects that by 2050, close to 70% of the world will live in cities. The timescale around scaling ground infrastructure, roads and bridges are too long and costly and given their 2D nature can’t support a 3D city. If you can build an electric aircraft that has high performance, low cost, high safety and low noise - you have the ability to unlock a new dimension of travel - one that lives in the 3rd dimension and has almost infinite scaling potential. We believe this is the start of a new golden age of aviation that we haven’t seen in 100 years. Morgan Stanley estimates this new electric aircraft market will be $1.5 trillion by 2040.

Similar to what’s happening when moving from the internal combustion engine to electric automobiles, moving to an electric aircraft creates several advantages around cost, noise and safety - all fundamental areas that enable urban air mobility:

Cost: Our goal is to make our service affordable for the masses. This means driving operating costs down to the price of ridesharing and over time to the cost of car ownership. Here are a few of the important cost drivers:

  • Maintenance Costs: Material to driving down maintenance costs is moving from traditional combustion engines to electric propulsion which removes thousands of parts and creates a far simpler vehicle. Maintenance is the largest cost for traditional helicopters, generally about ~30% of direct operating costs, driven by a high number of moving and critical parts. Moving to an electric powertrain removes thousands of parts and hundreds of critical components, reducing the amount of maintenance considerably.
  • Energy Costs: There is a substantial decline in energy related costs moving from fossil fuels to electrons. We will, however, need to include amortization of the battery pack.
  • Higher Utilization: Through aerial ridesharing, we will drive the daily vehicle utilization to levels much higher than those of helicopters, amortizing fixed costs over more flights.

Noise: Our goal is to drive flyover noise at or below equivalent sound levels of residential neighborhoods. Within cities, helicopters are too noisy. Helicopter noise is driven by loud turbine engines and high rotor tip speed (the tip of a helicopter rotor is traveling close to the speed of sound, creating a lot of noise). Our aircraft have electric motors turning propellers with low tip speeds, resulting in considerably less noise.

Safety: Our goal is to make our electric aircraft just as safe as commercial airliners. It is possible to achieve these levels because of the simple design and high redundancy. Key to driving up safety is eliminating critical parts (1), driving up component reliability (2), and designing safe aerial batteries (3).

  1. Critical Parts are any part where the failure could have a catastrophic effect upon the vehicle and they ultimately limit achievable safety levels in helicopters. As we're designing today, there should be no failure that results in a complete loss of power to the vehicle. Our aircraft will have no single point of failure that can cause a catastrophic failure.
  2. Component reliability should be higher for key electric powertrain components. There are significantly fewer moving parts in an electric motor than in a gas turbine or piston engine.
  3. Batteries will be designed to be tolerant to cell failures (either open circuit or hard shorts that may result in individual cell thermal runaway). We have set battery requirements so that thermal runaway will not propagate through the battery pack, and that any gases are vented from the aircraft. Using smaller cells also means that the battery can continue to provide energy/power with high reliability to get the vehicle back on the ground, even if some cells have failed.

Here’s the Master Plan

  1. Build an aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of electric VTOL
  2. Certify an aircraft that is just as safe as commercial airliners 
  3. Launch commercial routes in cities & integrate autonomous systems for safety

Our mission is to advance the benefits of sustainable air mobility. By creating the world’s leading air mobility network, we will help push the world towards a zero-emissions future.