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Bosch developing sensor box for air taxis using production-tested components from automotive

Bosch is working on sensor technology for air taxis. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that people around the world will take 1 billion flights in air taxis in 2030, once sharing services have also established a presence on fixed routes above the ground; most of those air taxis will be capable of operating without a pilot.

The first flying taxis are set to take off in major cities starting in 2023, at the latest. Bosch plans to play a leading role in shaping this future market.

—Harald Kröger, president of the Bosch Automotive Electronics division

Bosch believes it has discovered a gap in the market that it can exploit to attain this goal. Conventional aerospace technology is too expensive, bulky, and heavy to be used in autonomous flying taxis. However, modern sensors that are also used for automated driving or in the ESP anti-skid system could have the potential to bridge this gap. A team of Bosch engineers has combined dozens of sensors to create a universal control unit for flying taxis.

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Featuring Bosch sensors already in use in production vehicles, the universal control unit is designed to ensure the ability to determine the position of the flying taxis at all times, allowing them to be controlled with precision and safety.

The sensor box is equipped with MEMS sensors. Bosch developed the first MEMS sensors for vehicles more than 25 years ago. In vehicles, they supply control units with data about whether the car is currently braking or accelerating, and lets them know the direction in which the vehicle is traveling. The Bosch sensor box for flying taxis is equipped with acceleration sensors that measure the movements of the aircraft.

Built-in yaw-rate sensors measure the flying vehicle’s angle of attack, while magnetic field sensors gauge its compass heading. The package also includes pressure sensors, which use barometric pressure to measure altitude and dynamic pressure readings to determine the vehicle’s current speed.

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Acceleration and yaw-rate sensors that accurately measure the flying vehicles’ movements and angle of attack, for example, provide the necessary data. Unlike current sensor systems in the aerospace sector, some of which cost tens of thousands or even several hundred thousand euros, Bosch can make use of its solution for a fraction of the cost.

Through our Bosch solution, we aim to make civil aviation with flying taxis affordable for a wide range of providers.

—Marcus Parentis, the head of the technology team at Bosch in charge of the control units behind the electric light aircraft

The Bosch sensors are small and lightweight. Flying taxi manufacturers can easily install the Bosch sensor box into their air vehicles using the plug-and-play principle.

Test flights of electric air taxis are scheduled to begin in cities such as Dubai, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Singapore in 2020. Experts expect commercial operations to begin in 2023. Although pilots will probably be on board at first, the light aircraft could start flying autonomously over the roofs of major cities as early as 2025, controlled by staff on the ground.

By that time, roughly 3,000 flying taxis will be in operation worldwide, according to Roland Berger. That number will increase to 12,000 by 2030, with just under 100,000 flying taxis taking to the skies by 2050.

Consultants from Morgan Stanley estimate that the market for flying taxis could even reach €1.35 trillion (US$1.5 trillion) by 2040, extending beyond the United States and southeast Asia to include large and medium-sized cities in Germany as well.

In regions such as the Ruhr valley, the Frankfurt Rhine-Main metropolitan region, and the Munich/Augsburg/Ingolstadt metroplex, they have the potential to significantly speed up travel over short and medium distances.

We are talking to air taxi manufacturers from the aerospace and automotive industries, as well as with start-ups that build air vehicles and are looking to provide sharing services. The question isn’t whether flying taxis will become reality, but when.

—Marcus Parentis

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