The ASKAPicture used with permission from NFT Inc.
Do you dream of flying? The founders of NFT do. Their vision is not just of attaining flight but putting it within reach of individuals -- and not just wealthy ones.
NFT Inc., a Silicon Valley developer of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) solutions, put together an international team of experts from both the US and Israel to develop the ASKA, which is featured on the site, askafly.com. The development team has extensive experience in aeronautical and autonomous AI systems, including the most advanced unmanned air vehicles.
The ASKA is an example of an eVTOL -- Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing -- vehicle; it can take off and land like a helicopter without the need for a runway. As the video description informs us, its name comes from the Japanese word for a flying bird.
The first public presentation of a scaled demonstrator of the NFT ASKA eVTOL drive and fly vehicle took place just last month at EcoMotion Week, June 10-13th in Tel Aviv, Israel. After Guy Kaplinsky, Chairman, Cofounder, NFT Inc. returned, he was able to answer some questions for Interesting Engineering.
To start with: he shared its capacity and range. It runs on rechargeable batteries with a range extender (hybrid) propulsion system. That gives it a pretty impressive 350-mile range for flying and a decent 100 miles range for driving.
The vehicle can accommodate up to 3 people and is the size of a standard SUV, which makes it compact enough (no exposed rotors) to be parked in a standard garage or even a standard parking spot on the street.
In which way is this company distinguishing itself from others in the flying car space?
Kaplinsky said that, while other companies are focusing on things like “air taxis” and “are targeting executives, wealthy people, business travelers for their services,” his design is intended for a different demographic.
Realizing that “the average person can’t pay $100 for a one-way trip,” Kaplinsky believes the other manufacturers are in fact “missing the bigger market potential for Urban Air Mobility (UAM).”
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It comes down to daily needs and numbers. “I believe daily commuters represent 70-80 percent of the total market for UAM, whereas executive and millionaires represent only 20-30 percent of UAM’s total market potential,” he points out.
That is the key difference in how ASKA is planning to build its customer base:
“ASKA addresses a huge potential customer base (ordinary commuters) and can ignite demand for Urban Air Mobility. The affordability (subscription model) will trigger demand and require a high volume of vehicles to be produced.”
Economies of scale are key to affordability
Kaplinsky explained that he anticipates the product will be able to scale up efficiently because it will not be left up to just his company to produce the cars. NFT will not produce ASKA, it will be made using high-quality, low-cost automotive mass production.
He also anticipates that the price will be able to fall all the way down to $50K as a result of mass production. He explained:
“We estimate to be in mass production before 2030. By 2025 we’re predicting that the ability to live where you want, with a lower cost of living and more disposable income, will attract people to the drive and fly concept.”
Kaplinsky sees it unfolding as follows:
1. ASKA’s unique door-to-door drive and fly capabilities will create consumer demand for UAM services
- UAM will enable people to live in remote areas outside of major cities, benefiting from reduced living expenses and housing costs, while enjoying a good quality of life. Lower cost of living will provide more disposable income. With ASKA, people can save on commuting costs and quickly, easily and safely commute to urban centers.
- ASKA is a true drive and fly vehicle offering door-to-door service: Drive, fly and drive till your final destination, without the need to change to an air taxi, and then a car again.
- 91 percent of US commuters drive their own car...they like to listen to music, talk with friends,...they don’t like to share services or public transportation. In contrast, air taxis are like taking public transportation.
- ASKA is an ideal match for the demands of commuters: safety, comfort, convenience, savings of time and money.
2. Massive customer demand will create a strong demand for UAM Services
- Commuters are paying on average $400 a month for a car lease today. ASKA is offering a daily or monthly subscription model. People can use ASKA as needed; take it to work in the morning and return it in the evening.
- Owners could create a revenue stream by putting their vehicle into the fleet when they are not using it.
3. Respond to demand and produce in volume by bringing in automotive mass production
- To produce millions of vehicles a year, we need to bring in automotive mass production.
- The ASKA design is based on automotive components and provides Door-to-Door services that automotive makers are familiar with.
Don't know how to fly? No problem!
Kaplinsky doesn’t anticipate any special preparation or skill being required to drive these flying cars because they are designed to operate autonomously. Consequently, no pilot or piloting skills would be necessary to fly them.
“ASKA flies autonomously with its unique Sense & Avoid system." It works off of "sophisticated AI for detection abd collision avoidance in the air."
It can sense what's around it, and then compose "an awareness picture," on the basis of which it can select the safest direction for its flight path. "ASKA has a unique IP for autonomous systems that validates and verifies these capabilities.”
The current plan is to make is to enable the AKSA to drive itself, as well: “We will integrate it with existing autonomous driving systems to make ASKA fully autonomous in the air and on the road.”
I asked if they have investigated questions of insurance on such cars? Would incidents like the recent crash of a helicopter into the roof of a building in New York City raise any concrete safety concerns?
He answered as follows:
This is an evolving issue, but the general opinion is that insurers will probably offer a two-policy approach: basic automotive liability and a second policy that covers in-flight liability for collision, property damage, and personal injury. The courts will face a challenge in deciding when a car is a car, and when it becomes an aircraft. This will impact insurance coverage in an accident and also cost of premiums.
He also referenced an article on flying cars and the question of the crossover of aircraft and automobiles with respect to insurance policies from the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal Vol. 47, No. 2 (WINTER 2012).
He assures us that the company “is paying very close attention to safety issues.” They meet all current standards:
- Design innovations match FAA safety requirements which include high reliability, back-up systems and sophisticated redundancy management algorithms.
- Safe landing: In case of power system failure the battery package will support a 5 km radius for safe flight and landing.