Vimana outlines air taxi prospects in Dubai
Autonomous aerial vehicles could be the transportation alternative for cities facing rapid growth and congestion, Vimana Global's Evgeni Borisov tells PMV Middle East
Cities growing rapidly are finding it increasingly difficult to expand and upgrade their transportation infrastructure such as roads and subways to accommodate their rising population.
The solution to such immediate transportation challenges is urban air mobility, according to US-based Vimana Global, which is introducing autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) for smart cities, along with the first blockchain airspace platform for managing their flight routes.
AAVs are essentially ‘air taxis’ that can be used to transport passengers from the suburbs to downtown or from one skyscraper to another. Vimana is building two-seater and four-seater AAVs that utilise patented vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology to enable navigation through congested cities. The AAVs are designed to reach altitudes of up to 3000m, but Vimana is limiting that considerably to keep in line with aviation regulations.
Evgeni Borisov, CEO and co-founder, Vimana Global, explains the need for AAVs as alternative transportation systems.
“In highly congested cities like Tokyo and Singapore, it would be very costly to completely overhaul the existing road and rail infrastructure to accommodate rising population sizes. These cities along with cities like Dubai, which have already invested in technology and have well-established smart city initiatives, are prime locations for aerial commuter vehicles,” says Borisov.
Airspace management with blockchain
The main challenge facing implementation of an AAV network is that existing air traffic control towers (ATCTs) are unequipped to manage potentially thousands of AAV flights in a given city because they are centralised, human-controlled systems. Vimana addresses this hurdle by incorporating AAV flight paths into a blockchain-backed airspace management platform.
Vimana’s blockchain-based airspace management and transportation protocol, the decentralised VTOL traffic Management (DVTM) platform, is designed to be fully autonomous and interconnected with every take-off and landing area (TOLA), directional beacon and aircraft that is registered on the system. Through this protocol, aircrafts are constantly aware of all other participants in the system, and the chances of mid-air collisions are eliminated.
Each AAV communicates with all other AAVs on the network in a peer-to-peer fashion. The decentralised nature of the platform ensures that authority is not concentrated in any one entity or structure, which is more secure and less-easily disrupted by human error. Additionally, the use of blockchain technology ensures that the network is secure from external threats.
“Blockchain technology is uniquely suited to power Vimana’s airspace network because of its capacity to validate data using next generation blockchain infrastructure. Each Vimana AAV VTOL carries a Vimana blockchain airspace node running DVTM and passenger DNA protocols that communicate with terrestrial blockchain airspace nodes, and thus ensure safe and seamless operation of numerous aircraft. Blockchain airspace infrastructure guarantees that Vimana AAV flight control doesn’t have a single point of failure,” says Borisov.
Borisov elaborates on the safety features the AAV. “For example, safe tilt-wing transition eliminates the airdrop that has plagued the VTOL market from its inception. Moreover, the blockchain airspace concept introduces five nines of uptime and availability into the air traffic control (ATC) system, as well as know your customer (KYC) transparency into both passenger manifesto and aircraft identification, something that was not possible before blockchain’s ubiquitous availability,” he says.
Vimana owns the blockchain airspace infrastructure and protocols and provides technical support and maintenance for all their hardware and software.
“Our ecosystem embraces other AAVs and local operators and allows them to access the Vimana blockchain airspace network. We will work with local regulators and partners on determining the kind of aircraft that is required in each city. Vimana’s and the rest of the blockchain airspace infrastructure will be licensed by local operators,” says Borisov.
Applications of AAVs as commercial and industrial vehicles
While urban air mobility is the primary focus for Vimana Global, Borisov points out that the company’s product development map also involves other verticals that could use AAVs and blockchain technology.
“Over time, we envisage that our AAVs will be used in to crop dust farmlands and spray herbicide and fertilizers the agriculture industry, conduct aerial inspections of remote infrastructure assets in the construction industry, meet mandatory maintenance schedules for offshore rigs in the offshore oil and gas industry and provide autonomous deliveries of passengers or cargo. In smart cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, our AAVs can also potentially be used as ambulances, for fire response or as police vehicles,” he says.
Vimana is currently working on running the vehicle through a final testing protocol. Simultaneously, the company is speaking to governmental agencies in Dubai to get permission to conduct a test flight in Q1 2018.
“In terms of commercial rollout, the plan is to have an operational fleet in select smart cities like Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, Tokyo, Singapore and Mumbai by 2020,” says Borisov.
One of the biggest challenges for deployment is regulations, according to Borisov. Similar to most other digital technologies, blockchain will not be regulated by only one law enforcement agency or government department, and each industry’s regulatory apparatus will need to be involved.
“In each smart city where we plan to operate, like Dubai for example, all of Vimana’s operations shall meet national regulations and follow strict rules of compliance for both airspace and blockchain technology. If we look at blockchain as transport, including airspace protocol in Dubai, then in addition to the government, authorities like Dubai RTA will need to be involved and set the regulatory framework. That being said, in my personal opinion, at least in terms of the GCC, currently only Dubai has the infrastructure and more importantly, the government backing, to make blockchain a reality,” he says.
The Dubai blockchain strategy was launched in 2016 by HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairman of the executive council of Dubai, as a collaboration between the Smart Dubai Office and the Dubai Future Foundation with the goal of making Dubai the first blockchain-powered government in the world by 2020. Under the new strategy, industries that will benefit from blockchain technology include real estate, fin-tech and banking, healthcare, transportation, urban planning, smart energy, digital commerce and tourism.
“Should the vision of Dubai Smart City continue to evolve towards urban air mobility and ubiquitous blockchain integration, then we could have commercial operations in Dubai as early as 2023. We can’t predict the number of vehicles because Dubai doesn’t know yet what role VTOL AAVs are to play. Is it a city taxi, city limo, subway, commuter train, helicopter or all of the above? Just like every new technology, in the beginning, there will be a pilot program just to show people that it’s safe, quick and comfortable,” he says.
In December 2017, Vimana Global announced that it closed a multi-million angel round and kicked off its token generation event (TGE) by opening its white list to qualified entities. The company’s goal is to fund blockchain airspace international development and to assign value to using blockchain airspace. Vimana’s TGE seeks to attract $35m via the token sale.
“The total addressable market for blockchain airspace estimated by researchers will be $132.6bn by 2025. Vimana plans to achieve a 5–7% market share by 2023, which translates into at least a $6.6bn opportunity,” says Borisov.