Revolutionizing Urban Air Mobility: The ALBACOPTER Project

Revolutionizing Urban Air Mobility: The ALBACOPTER Project

Urban air mobility (UAM) has the potential to revolutionize transportation and pave the way for sustainable mobility solutions. Recognizing this, the Fraunhofer ALBACOPTER Lighthouse Project aims to tackle the technical and social challenges associated with UAM. Led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, the project has developed an innovative aircraft that takes inspiration from the albatross, offering enhanced efficiency and maneuverability.

One of the key requirements for UAM is the development of safe and quiet VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) systems with powerful propulsion performance. Electric multicopters have emerged as a viable solution, combining the benefits of VTOL agility with adherence to safety and environmental criteria. However, their limited range and payload capacity due to low efficiency and energy storage densities have posed challenges. This is where the concept of incorporating larger wings comes into play, as it can significantly improve energy balance by enabling gliding for extended periods.

The Fraunhofer ALBACOPTER project sets out to build a flying platform that combines the maneuverability of a multicopter with the efficiency of a glider. Drawing inspiration from the albatross, renowned for its long-distance gliding abilities, the ALBACOPTER aims to optimize energy consumption while achieving maximum maneuverability. By leveraging sustainable materials, high-performance propulsion systems, and advanced AI-based control systems, the project aims to create an experimental aircraft that pushes the boundaries of UAM.

To tackle the complexity of the drone design, the project brings together the expertise of six Fraunhofer institutes. The Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF focuses on designing the structure and aerodynamic components of the ALBACOPTER. By integrating pultruded fiber-reinforced thermoplastics into the space frame fuselage architecture, the project ensures a robust and recyclable structure.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT plays a crucial role in developing the efficient propulsion technology of the ALBACOPTER. Their high-speed synchronous motors, coupled with a multi-stage transmission and high power density, offer a significant improvement over traditional direct drive systems. Additionally, the institute provides a specialized propulsion test rig for testing eVTOL propulsion systems, further advancing the field of UAM.

Ensuring sustainable energy storage is another critical aspect of UAM. The battery storage system in the ALBACOPTER incorporates cycle-resistant secondary cells that enable highly reversible charging and discharging processes. Detailed investigations into the cells’ degradation and failure mechanisms under various flight conditions contribute to the development of a reliable and efficient energy storage system.

360-degree environmental monitoring is essential for safe and reliable UAM operations. The ALBACOPTER combines high-performance multi-sensor systems with cutting-edge single-photon LiDAR detectors created by the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS. This comprehensive monitoring system, coupled with AI-based trajectory planning, enables innovative features such as autonomous emergency landing, a critical safety requirement for UAM.

The ALBACOPTER introduces a fail-safe RISC-V on-board electrical system architecture, continuous monitoring, stable 5G communications, and a redundant autopilot system. These features ensure the high reliability and safety standards necessary for UAM operations.

The ALBACOPTER serves as a demonstrator for Fraunhofer technologies expected to see increased demand in the aerospace and logistics sectors in the next five to eight years. Hybrid copter-gliders, featuring variable sweep-wing aircraft and multicopters with retractable wings and pivoting rotors, represent a middle ground between helicopters, multicopters, and conventional fixed-wing aircraft. The ALBACOPTER, as a VTOL glider, will facilitate testing of various VTOL technologies, providing valuable insights for the future development of UAM systems.

The Fraunhofer ALBACOPTER project adopts a multi-stage validation approach, incorporating flight models, wind tunnel experiments, iron bird test rig structures, and XiL system simulations on a digital twin developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB. The upcoming launch of a scaled-down version of the drone in fall 2023, followed by extensive flight tests in early 2024, will further solidify the project’s advancements in UAM technology.

The Fraunhofer ALBACOPTER Lighthouse Project represents a significant step forward in the realm of urban air mobility. By embracing nature-inspired design principles and cutting-edge technologies, the project aims to redefine the possibilities of sustainable transportation. As UAM becomes an increasingly central component of urban planning, innovations such as the ALBACOPTER pave the way for a future where mobility is efficient, environmentally conscious, and accessible to all.

Technology

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