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Startup Alaka'i Unveils Hydrogen-powered Flying Car

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【Summary】The five-passenger unit offers an extended range of 400 miles (up to four hours) per full charge. To complement its fleet of flying cars, air taxi services will also be offered by Alaka’i.

Michael Cheng    Jun 12, 2019 5:00 AM PT
Startup Alaka'i Unveils Hydrogen-powered Flying Car

Developers of flying cars are using a variety of techniques to maximize flight. In order to address the current limitations of lithium-ion batteries and promote sustainable transportation practices, it could be worth exploring unconventional fuel alternatives – such as hydrogen power.

This is the route flying car startup Alaka'i is taking, through its hydrogen-powered prototype, Skai. The five-passenger unit offers an extended range of 400 miles (up to four hours) per full charge. Compared to standard lithium batteries, hydrogen fuel cells provide up to 10 times more power – while maintaining low carbon emissions.

Hydrogen Fuel

Skai is a six-rotor flying car that utilizes liquid hydrogen for power, which can refuel in less than 10 minutes. Capable of seating up to five passengers per trip, the aircraft offers a maximum cargo capacity of 1,000 lbs. Initially, Alaka'i will build a pilot-operated unit. A flying car with autonomous capabilities will be offered at a later time. The company has not released an official price tag for the compact aircraft.

"Hydrogen has a few hundred times the energy density of the best of lithium ion battery technology," said Bruce Holmes, Board Member at Alaka'i.

Safety is on everyone's mind when talking about flying cars. In this aspect of the aircraft, Skai does not disappoint. The unit is built with numerous redundant safety features and electronic sensors that monitor critical parts of the system. Furthermore, it will come equipped with a ballistic parachute for emergency landings. Multiple components of the aircraft can withstand, absorb or deflect harsh impacts to protect passengers during worst-case scenarios.

Future Expansion and Testing

Alaka'i must tackle several challenges before bringing its flying car to urban locations. Some hurdles, such as availability of regulations surrounding the aircrafts and air taxi services, require patience and will likely be addressed as the industry continues to mature. For now, the startup is focusing most of its efforts in acquiring certification for its flagship flying car, which will come from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The company is aiming to complete FAA certification within the next few years.

At the moment, Alaka'i is at the early stages of testing. Current testing activities include powering up rotors at various levels, tethered operation and technical documentation. Leading up to this point, the company spent four years developing the design of the aircraft with BMW Group's Designworks studio.

"The test vehicle is up at Minuteman Field up in Stow, and all the tests we've been conducting to date have been with it tethered to a concrete pad, which is part of the FAA requirements," confirmed Brian Morrison, CTO of the startup.

"The core philosophy is keep it simple. And by keeping it simple, we'll get certified sooner and we'll be a much lower cost vehicle than the more complex designs."

To complement its fleet of flying cars, air taxi services will also be offered by Alaka'i. The company confirmed it will be operating its own commercial flying car service in the future. Interestingly, some of the startup's leaders already have experience hosting such services.

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