In the Fraunhofer ALBACOPTER® lighthouse project, six Fraunhofer institutes are addressing the technical and social issues associated with Urban Air Mobility
Led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, researchers have developed an aircraft that glides in a particularly efficient way – taking inspiration from the albatross.
Electric multicopters offer the benefits of VTOL agility while also fulfilling safety and environmental criteria; however, their range and payload capacity are extremely limited due to their low efficiency and low energy storage densities. Larger wings could significantly improve the crafts’ energy balance by allowing them to glide for long periods. On the other hand, these wings would hinder take-off and landing in urban areas. In addition, to make UAM financially viable, VTOL aircraft that fly autonomously will be required; however, this involves AI-based control systems, which create further safety risks.
For this reason, it can be assumed that in the future, UAM will become established via a wide range of paths, and that the aerospace technologies involved will be as varied as their use cases in sectors such as logistics drones, air taxis, rescue and surveillance drones and agricultural engineering.
These factors prompted the launch of a Fraunhofer lighthouse project in 2021, with the objective of building a flying platform that could combine the agility of a multicopter with the efficiency of a glider. “With the ALBACOPTER®, we aim to develop an experimental aircraft that pairs the maneuverability of a multicopter with an albatross’ ability to glide long distances with minimal use of energy,” explains Prof. Matthias Klingner, project manager and director of Fraunhofer IVI. “Some exceptional features of this experimental VTOL glider include drone bodies and cargo containers made from sustainable materials, high-performance coaxial propulsion systems, powerful multi-sensor systems for perceiving the environment and monitoring functionalities, and failsafe on-board electronic systems including an AI-based autopilot,” Prof. Klingner continues. The consortium has addressed the complexity of this drone design by pooling the expertise of the participating institutes.