Archer unveils full-scale, two-seat, autonomous Maker eVTOL prototype
Palo Alto's Archer has unveiled a full-scale, two-seat, autonomous prototype of its Maker eVTOL aircraft at the Hawthorne Airport in California. This striking aircraft will begin ground tests and flight tests later this year, with air taxi services slated to begin in LA and Miami in 2024.
Just about dead-on to the renders we've seen previously, the Maker uses an intermediate design that's effectively half vectored thrust and half lift & cruise. It's a fairly conventional airplane shape with a V-tail and a large main overhead wing. Along this wing are six propulsion pods, each with a two-blade rear lift rotor and a five-blade front rotor that can tilt forward in horizontal flight. The rear rotors can't be completely tucked away to reduce drag, but they keep things as efficient as they can by aligning themselves with the airflow.
Maker promises perfectly reasonable 150 mph (240 km/h) top speeds and 60-mile (96 km) battery range with emergency reserves taken into account, and at today's launch, Archer confirmed that this is very much an urban air taxi focused on affordable, cross-town traffic-busting rather than the longer-range inter-city operations Germany's Lilium is focusing on.
"We're designing for nominal missions between 20 and 40 miles," said co-founder Brett Adcock. "And we designed a long range battery that was capable of much more than this. So we don't have to fully charge after every trip. For our flights we'll be using around 30% of our battery pack. The battery is meant to be fast charged, while on the ground, which means it only takes about 10 minutes to charge enough before it's ready for the next flight. That means that the Archer aircraft can do over 40 flights per day."
"What Brett's talking about are these urban Air Mobility missions, right? Your commuting trips," added co-founder Adam Goldstein. "But we think there's actually a broader purpose here. What about all the trips that you wish you could take, but you just don't because they're too far? Imagine you could go anywhere within a 50 mile radius. Where would you go? What if you go rock climbing on a Thursday in a remote area, after work, and you could get there in just a couple minutes, or what if there was an amazing restaurant on top of a mountain, and you could fly there in just a couple minutes and it had incredible views?"
While Archer will go to market with a piloted four-passenger version, the intent with all these companies is to make eVTOL travel fully autonomous as quickly as legally possible. The prototype revealed today was a pilotless two-seater, which will serve both as an indication of the autonomous customer experience down the track, and as a demonstration testbed for use in the torturous certification process Archer will need to get through to begin commercial operations and mass manufacturing.
The co-founders then opened up the prototype's doors – gullwings, as if you'd expect anything less out of Silicon Valley (NSFW language warning) – and demonstrated a spacious and comfy-looking interior with plenty of room for luggage. The large tinted wraparound window gives you some 270 degrees of unimpeded views, from which you can look down and laugh at the schmucks crawling along bumper-to-bumper below. A touchscreen gives you the kind of information you'll need; maps, airspeed, time to destination, an indication of whether your ground transport's ready to pick you up from the pad, that sort of thing.
"For the last year and a half," said Adcock, "we've been working closely with the FAA on our piloted four-passenger aircraft. Safety is our number one goal. There's a multi-year roadmap designed around high safety. Our third step is to launch commercial routes in cities, and integrate autonomous systems for safety. We're excited to have Maker at the forefront of our autonomous capabilities, and we're pushing hard on engineering problems, such as GPS-denied navigation and sense & avoid. We announced earlier this year, we'll be launching in both Los Angeles and Miami. Both are incredible partners for us, with lots of traffic, ideal infrastructure for landing sites, and communities very proactive to reduce congestion and move to a sustainable form of transportation."
Unsurprisingly, no mention was made of legal proceedings that are underway after Wisk accused Archer of stealing its designs. Archer has described the accusations as "totally baseless," saying Wisk's lawsuit "does not identify a single specific Wisk trade secret, let alone any evidence of misappropriation." Archer has filed a Motion to Dismiss, as well as a counter-claim against Wisk for "tortious interference and unfair competition, alleging that Wisk has made false and unsupported public statements outside of the litigation, designed to harm Archer, a successful competitor."
You can check out the full launch event below, complete with some pretty slick production that placed the prototype on an LED-screen floor to allow a weird on-stage simulated flight. Enjoy!