Advanced Air Mobility Interviews

An Interview with XPeng HT Aero (AEROHT)

by Global Sky Team

An Interview with XPeng HT Aero (AEROHT)

What are XPeng HT Aero’s views regarding the Flying Car applications?

The sixth generation flying car of XPeng HT Aero, a vehicle with ability to drive on land and fly in the sky, is planning to enter mass production and start deliveries in 2024. In terms of land travel, it can meet the functionality of a smart electric car. In terms of air travel, users of flying cars can fly under certain scenarios in the initial stage; eventually, flying cars will be able to carry out parallel flying on highways between cities, rivers, obstacles, as well as flying air tours around islands. With traffic laws and regulations continuously improving, our flying cars will be able to realize more applications such as individual air tours, urban air travel for businessmen, emergency rescue, and more.

XPeng HT Aero defines its sixth-generation product as a ‘flying car’. From XPeng HT Aero’s perspective, how are the ‘flying cars’ different from eVTOL?

“eVTOL” is short for Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing. It is translated as “电动垂直起降” in Chinese and is mainly used to describe products that can only fly. From the general category, eVTOL can be divided into two categories. One is vehicles that only have flying capabilities and cannot satisfy the need of driving on the road (most product development falls into this category worldwide) and the other one is flying cars that can both operate on the road and takeoff vertically into the sky (due to development difficulties, not a lot of products fall into this category worldwide). XPeng HT Aero’s flying car belongs to the latter category.

XPeng HT Aero’s flying car is firstly a smart electric car that can drive safely on land that combines vertical takeoff and landing ability. It can also both fly and drive, thus truly combining the qualities of both a car and an aircraft. XPeng HT Aero’s first flying car will mainly focus on land travel, whilst also considering its flight condition. 90% of its application is used for ground driving, and its driving condition is equivalent to that of a conventional car, meaning it has sufficient safety measures; 10% of its application is used for aerial travel. Even though our first flying car can only be applied to 10% of aviation scenarios, through gradual improvements of technology, regulations, and public resources, we will slowly enhance its use for flight applications.

The recently announced sixth-generation flying car has changed from the X2’s four-axis eight-propeller to a dual-rotor. At the same time, its appearance has also undergone a huge change. What is the reason for these changes?

Our previously published video is the conceptual configuration of the sixth-generation aircraft. As it is still in the research and development stage, there will be more adjustments in the future. It is not the finalized model.

In the future, if flying cars are mass-produced, what are XPeng HT Aero’s ideas regarding credentials required for personal flying?

In the future, to use flying cars you will definitely need certain qualifications. As for what licenses are needed and how to obtain them, we are cooperating with the Civil Aviation Administration and other similar departments to explore this. However, XPeng HT Aero’s flying cars simplified the cockpit and are equipped with an autonomous pilot function. After a route has been set, it can take off, land, and cruise with one key. The flying car has lower requirements in terms of the ability and qualification of the pilot when compared to the requirements for pilots operating helicopters or airplanes.

How does XPeng view eVTOL or automatic driving technology of flying cars, and how does it differ from the autonomous land-based driving technology of cars?

Flying autopilot and autonomous driving technology have roughly similar systems, both including four parts: perception, decision-making, orientation, and control. However, there are a lot of differences, with them mainly originating from operating scenarios and vehicles. In addition, there are also different requirements regarding reliability and safety.

The difference in operating scenarios mainly has to do with the different traffic environments and spatial dimensions. Land transportation consists of roads, various vehicles, pedestrians, road signs and so on; aerial transportation includes topography, take-off and landing sites, buildings, trees, various aircraft, birds, etc. As such, flying and land-based autonomous driving need to perceive different things. Flying is moving in 3D, whilst driving is in 2D. Thus, flying needs omnidirectional 3D perception that not only includes moving on the same level but also up and down; the flight trajectory program is also a 3D spatial trajectory. The difference in the vehicles is mainly in their movement and maneuverability. Aircraft follow flight dynamics; cars follow vehicle dynamics. The maneuverability of the two is also different; flying permits faster speeds, so the requirement regarding the perceived distance is higher. Thus, flying needs higher requirements for reliability and safety, as such flying autopilot also has a higher requirement when compared with auto-driving. Different from the classification of auto-driving cars, flying autopilot at present does not yet have a widely approved standard. The current automatic driving technology for flying cars is positioned to provide support to drivers, which needs the safe operation of the driver’s surveillance system. Subsequent autonomous driving technology will further elevate its environmental perception ability and adaptability.

XPeng’s current X2 as well as the sixth-generation fly car are mainly for customers to use, why is that? Will there be any business-orientated products in the future?

At present, there are 70 to 80 million cars sold worldwide per year, but the sales of aircraft amount to less than ten thousand, resulting in a huge difference in sales. Take some US eVTOL manufacturers for example, the price of one eVTOL is 4 million USD, the manufacturing cost is high, the barrier of purchasing is high, and it is difficult to sell, making it is impossible to change the way people travel.

Our flying car will not have the same issue. According to our plan, XPeng HT Aero is easier to control and priced at a suitable range. It can fulfill the need of personal land and air travel. In addition, it has the condition to be placed in mass production. Only a large-scale application can change the way people travel. From the quantity perspective, the Chinese automobile market ranks the first in the world. Each market segment has huge potential and room to expand which bring a great hope to us. Therefore, we will continue to serve the individual customers.

The application scenarios and products are indeed giving a lot of opportunities to the business customers. We are also setting the directions for the research and development for products targeting business. We will wait for the appropriate time to communicate with the public.

How does XPeng view eVTOL or automatic driving technology of flying cars, and how does it differ from the autonomous land-based driving technology of cars?

Technical difficulties: For example, high power density as well as a stable and reliable motor technology, high energy density, high discharge rate, high safety power battery, air autopilot technology, safely integrated technology, flight control, aerodynamic performance integration, electronic speed control with stable and reliable algorithms. All these are currently technological difficulties regarding the research and development of flying cars.

Supply chain difficulties: At present, the domestic aviation industry and supply chain are underdeveloped, compared to Europe and North America, there is still a certain disparity. When compared with other industries such as the automobile industry, aviation’s supply chain system is extremely underdeveloped. Any scalable product can only be realized under the support of a large and efficient supply chain. Flying cars are a comprehensive industrial integrated product, requiring a large amount of supply chain support. How to grow together, develop and improve the domestic supply chain standard is also a difficult problem faced by XPeng.

Difficulties in policies and regulations: Currently, the flying car market does not exist, products and supporting policies for customers are still unclear. There are a lot of uncertainties in terms of regulations and policies which will add a barrier for developing flying cars in the future.Every product has a clear use, and there are also differences in the definition of security and power for different products. In terms of safety, XPeng HT Aero has launched a comprehensive Fault Hazard Analysis (FHA) from the beginning of its development. At the same time, it has adopted multiple redundancy schemes for key systems such as power links and flight control systems. A lot of optimization analysis has been done on the structural design, and even if there are unexpected situations, the high-efficiency airframe structure can effectively reduce the impact.

Currently, XPeng has built integrated developmental capabilities in key areas such as computer-aided engineering (CAE) models, and experimental testing and assessments. At the same time, we have a huge investment in research and development. We hope that through a large amount of basic research and development investment, we can quickly improve the boundaries of the team’s technical capabilities in various fields, to help reduce development risks and difficulties.

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