Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter and Bernd Appel, Managing Director of Lufthansa Industry Solutions, celebrate their partnership for Volocopter's new VoloIQ platform that will run on Microsoft's Azure cloud computing network. (Volocopter)
By selecting Microsoft Azure as its core digital urban air mobility (UAM) operations cloud computing infrastructure, Volocopter has given its new VoloIQ platform the ability to establish low altitude electric air taxi and drone traffic management services globally, here's why.
Volocopter's Oct. 28 selection of Microsoft Azure to power VoloIQ – along with a Lufthansa Industry partnership – was one of a number of new customers in recent months added to what has become the world's cloud computing network. During the third quarter of 2020, Microsoft reported a 48 percent growth in its Azure cloud computing services network revenue.
Azure’s massive global cloud computing platform includes more than 160 physical data centers, organized into regions where Microsoft has geographically located “latency defined perimeters,” according to their website. The world computer is also powered by more than 100,000 miles of fiber optic and sub-sea scale cabling and 150 edge locations on the ground that currently serve more than 20 million companies globally.
Azure functions a worldwide cloud computing network with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other digital applications available to customers like Volocopter in an advanced evolution of the mobile app store style business models used by Apple and Google on their mobile device operating systems. Volocopter's goal with VoloIQ is to effectively create a new low altitude air traffic management system capable of interfacing air taxi and drone position updates to individual UAM operators, air navigation service providers and regulators as well as regional and local businesses, transportation authorities, and even residents of communities and regions that will change as a result of the future UAM concept of operations envisioned by Volocopter.
Microsoft's business model for Azure employs service level agreements that give companies like Volocopter the ability to run their native business Information Technology (IT) systems, services, and applications on Azure's virtual machines, edge computing servers and machine learning algorithms. These capabilities will be made available to Volocopter, as other Azure customers, through an ExpressRoute private network connection to the Azure cloud where they can also decide what types of algorithms Microsoft has available to integrate into their native internal and customer-facing business applications.
Multiprotocol Label Switching, a private ground-based network data routing technique for faster connections, makes its style cloud computing services and algorithms available to run on local edge devices and virtual machines because of Microsoft's massive build-out of server farms and fiber optic cabling on a country-by-country basis. That would also make it easier for Volocopter to process its air taxi position updates through an application programmable interface running on Azure to a city’s transportation department or a state's regional airport systems where those respective entities could integrate new cloud-based air taxi services into their existing customer-facing digital kiosks and mobile apps already used by thousands of potential UAM users.
VoloIQ will be the core digital cloud computing platform that Volocopter uses to interface with urban air mobility passengers, operators, businesses and transportation authorities and regulators as well. (Volocopter)
"We’re building Azure as the world’s computer with more data center regions than any other provider, now 66, including new regions in Austria, Brazil, Greece, and Taiwan. We’re expanding our hybrid capabilities so that organizations can seamlessly build, manage, and deploy their applications anywhere," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the company's Oct. 30 third-quarter earnings call.
"With Azure SQL Edge, we’re bringing SQL data engine to IoT devices for the first time. And with Azure Space, we’re partnering with SpaceX and SES to bring Azure compute to anywhere on the planet," he added.
Some of the aerospace industry's most prominent companies are already Azure users, including Lockheed Martin's combination of Azure Mixed reality services and the wearable Hololens display to develop the Orion spacecraft. GE Aviation uses Azure for enterprise AI applications, while Airbus is also an enterprise Azure native AI application developer, Nadella said.
A representative for Volocopter told Aviation Today via emailed responses that the VoloIQ system can "run on edge devices distributed through the network where this makes sense.”
“For example, we can have sensors and computing in stationary computers along the routes, in the hardware at charging stations and aboard the aircraft,” the representative added. "Data can be collected and computed locally to enable the speed required for certain processes and efficiently distributed to the network in an already computed form.”
VoloCity is Volocopter's first commercial model eVTOL aircraft variant with a calculated range of 35 km and airspeed of 110 km/h. The German eVTOL developer has been making steady progress with its future UAM ambitions over the last year, including earning a Design Organization Approval (DOA) from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), becoming the first aerospace company focused on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to do so in December 2019.
Volocopter's VoloCity completed a public demonstration flight over Singapore's Marina Bay last year. (Volocopter)
Now, their goal is to use VoloIQ as the digital backbone for the broader UAM ecosystem, supporting their takeoff and landing ports and communications with local and regional stakeholders. Some of the UAM stakeholders VoloIQ will digitally interface with including smart cities, existing mobility providers, public transportation and ride-hailing, flight and ground operations, as well as customer-facing services.
"In order to offer a fully integrated product with a seamless user experience, our systems need to be talking to other systems our customers use. On the most basic level, VoloIQ will offer an API to connect their services with ours. The customer-facing portal will be our Volocopter app," the Volocopter representative said.
"Lufthansa Industry Solutions is our partner for the implementation while we continue to ramp up our in-house capacities. They have extensive experience and deep know-how of software services and integration within the aviation industry and regulatory framework in cloud computing and connectivity," the representative added.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in the Azure cloud store that will see adoption by Volocopter include those that can help the manufacturer to understand and predict demand for their services, improve fleet availability, routing, and mission planning. Those digital workloads will occur on the Azure platform that has now ingested nearly 1 million SQL databases and processes more than 1.4 trillion queries daily, according to Microsoft.
Volocopter is also looking at Azure's AI and ML applications as building blocks, the rep said, using the VoloCity's batteries as an example.
"Let’s take our batteries for example. We monitor them closely during flight, charging, and changing phases to better understand their behavior and learn about the circumstances when they perform best and have the longest life cycle. This smart monitoring helps us increase efficiency, profitability by extending battery lifetime, and safety by early detection of anomalies," the Volocopter representative said. "AI and ML are key building blocks to realize this. The same logic is applicable for all other relevant systems. Backed by a digital twin, we will understand them better as individual components and as systems by knowing the data from all batteries in use worldwide."