Newbury Park, California, USA
In 2019, a mockup trial of the futuristic aircraft, dubbed “Skai” by its inventors at Alaka’i Technologies Corporation, was put on exhibit for investors, the news media, and other invited guests outside the BMW Group’s Designworks studio in Newbury Park, a suburb north of Los Angeles.
In the show-and-tell demo, the multi-rotor hover craft billed as the “first flying vehicle to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells” raised some eyebrows; but, unfortunately never left the ground.
“We’re going to get off the ground imminently,” said Steve Hanvey, CEO, Alaka’i Technologies, adding that assembly was completed weeks ago and that initial Federal Aviation Administration certification is pending.
Hanvey said he expects to win FAA certification for initial production vehicles by the end of 2020, and to make its first aircraft available for sale in early 2021, before ramping up production.
As for the design, BMW Designworks states: Skai is not a bird, a plane, or an aircraft. It’s a completely new vehicle category.
The BMW unit contributed to the craft’s design with the intention to make it go from “A to Anywhere.”
The engineering and avionics for the drone-like vehicle were developed by Alaka’i Technologies Corporation, a privately held company based in Massachusetts but named for a tropical forest in Hawaii ranked as one of the wettest spots on Earth.
Founded by Brian Morrioson, the emerging air mobility design and manufacturing company is headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
Since 2015, the firm has assembled a distinguished executive team with decades of aerospace development, production, executive and airspace integration experience (NASA, Raytheon, Beech Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas, Hughes, DayJet, SATSAir, Cirrus, Metro Aviation, Delta Airlines).
The company touts the Skai craft as a promising new zero-emissions mode of personal airborne transport ideal for Southern California, a region long plagued by smog and renowned for traffic gridlock of epic proportions.
Powered by six hydrogen fuel cell batteries – one for each rotor engine – the aircraft is designed for a range of 300 miles but are envisioned mainly for short urban hops or flights between nearby cities.
The Skai is the size of a minivan, resembling a sleek, five-seat SUV with landing skids and an array of six horizontal rotors attached at the end of arms protruding from the roof of the craft—designed to be naturally efficient, down to the last detail.
BMW was challenged to design a premium vehicle experience that goes beyond just the end-user and delves deep into the entire vehicle infrastructure ecosystem.
A new form of transportation that is easy to love, but also simple to produce and implement into existing systems, Skai is able to leverage items including drag and gravity to improve and enhance its performance and overall experience, because it is designed to deal with physics in the same efficient and ingenious ways as nature does.
The entire vehicle concept was designed from the inside out, starting with a blank canvas. A physical mock-up enhanced with VR capabilities allowed us to explore and evaluate multiple vehicle configurations quickly and thoroughly and experience mobility at height.
That is how BMW was able to identify a solution that is unique to aviation and an experience that is unique to any form of consumer transportation.
Designworks, together with Skai, worked on an initial prototype of an app to be implemented with the future Skai Cab service.
Designed to create an easy, user-friendly experience, the prototype simulates the ability to hail a Skai vehicle in the local area, input the required destination and style of travel.
With a choice between the air-pooling feature – to ride with others at a reduced cost – or reserving the entire vehicle, the app will indicate a nearby location where the vehicle will meet the user, before taking them to their destination in a seamless and enjoyable trip.
Built for the most simple, natural and human-focused experience.
In the long run, the company foresees producing more than 10,000 vehicles a year, with a sticker cost that would “approach the price of a luxury car,” Hanvey said.
They will be built in three basic configurations – for taxi or person use.
Designers: BMW Group Designworks
Manufacturer: Alaka’i Technologies Corporation