FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) — Here on ABC7, we’ve covered self-driving cars on the roads. But another movement is emerging with autonomous flying taxis. A new company has just opened an office in Fremont, where autonomous planes are being built.
Supernal is an advanced air mobility company, part of the Hyundai Motor Group.
The vision is to create an air taxi that would allow people to avoid traveling on the roads.
Ramona Stefanescu is the Senior Director of Research.
“Going from a hub like an airport or even downtown San Francisco or San Jose to Palo Alto or something in between, it can be done in a short trip with an air taxi. Don’t get stuck in traffic jams, don’t spend 40 to 50 minutes there. We want to give people more time to spend with their families,” she explains.
Stefanescu and his team are designing a first-generation aircraft. It would seat four people and, initially, would be piloted by a human, traveling about 120 mph with a battery range of 25 to 30 miles.
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“You’re going to have the thrust of the plane that the rotors are now going to help propel you forward. You’re going to see a lot of movement in the rotors. You take off vertically, you fly like a plane forward and “You land vertically. So it’s a mix between a helicopter and an airplane,” Stefanescu explains.
Asked about the challenge of building such a new vehicle, Stefanescu says Supernal builds on existing technologies and manufacturing processes for civil aircraft and general aviation aircraft.
Part of the process involves developing lightweight, powerful batteries, building the cell, rotors, sensors and an ecosystem that allows these vehicles to take off and land. Something they call a vertiport.
“It’s going to be a dedicated structure, we can make analogies with a heliport at the moment, a similar structure where you have to land vertically. But yes, there will be charging stations, it’s an electric plane powered by batteries so it goes “There are charging stations for cars and planes, but also to park our cars, our bikes and like I said, I hope we can walk to a vertiport”, Stefanescu said.
So what does it take to build something in this future?
Niraj Nath, head of strategy and facilities management, says a lot of this is about attracting tech talent from Silicon Valley, with the help of innovative and welcoming work facilities.
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“At the highest level, HMG and our leaders have instructed us to build an office space that’s better than home. Provide all the amenities you have at home, but better. Build a space where they want to come to work and not forced.”
The sustainability-focused facility includes numerous spaces that promote collaboration for the 140 employees who come to work.
This includes a gym, entertainment room, free lunches and more.
“Some of the research has shown that the generation of today and tomorrow is what they want: flexibility, choice, being able to rely on technology and being able to work comfortably from home and having choice “, explains Nath.
The timeline for Supernal employees in Fremont and across the company to put the aircraft into service is 2028.
“We are working towards this, we want to be able to build and dispose of the aircraft and the ecosystem. All the technologies that we bring together have to go through a rigorous process. And the security of that process is at the heart. It may take a few years and we may not be the first or the second to market an area that the company is dedicated to, namely the safety of our aircraft,” Stefanescu said.
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The vision is to fly several Supernal aircraft at the same time, knowing that they will not be the only ones flying.
Supernal is actively working with the FAA to certify the eVTOL aircraft to the highest commercial aviation safety standards. They also have an active early application file with their Emerging Technologies Coordination Office (AIR-611) as part of their proactive approach to establishing rules and standards for eVTOLs.
But the immediate priority is to build a prototype vehicle.
Target markets to start with are Los Angeles, Seoul and Miami and eventually the Bay Area.
Supernal wants to make this plane ride affordable, as expensive as an Uber X for a 45-minute trip.
The plane will fly at lower altitudes, between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.
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