Venture Bytes #100: Air Taxi Anyone?

Air Taxi Anyone?

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft hold the potential to revolutionize urban air travel by enabling efficient point-to-point transportation. These innovative vehicles seamlessly integrate the advantages of helicopters (vertical takeoff and landing) and airplanes (fixed-wing flight), creating an optimal solution for short-range flights spanning 20 to 50 miles. As regulatory approvals for eVTOLs gain momentum, the commercialization of these aircraft is imminent. Around 200 companies are presently engaged in the development of eVTOL vehicles, preparing for a major step forward in air travel.

Tailored for urban transportation in congested settings, eVTOLs have the potential to disrupt the $49 billion helicopter industry significantly. Helicopters represent the most direct competition for eVTOLs in terms of concept, yet the costs associated with manufacturing, purchasing, operating, and maintaining eVTOLs are significantly less. For reference, a small to mid-sized helicopter consumes approximately 45 to 50 gallons of fuel per hour, translating to an expenditure of roughly $250. In contrast, a similarly sized eVTOL boasts a consumption rate of approximately 8.2 cents per mile. This remarkable cost advantage is underpinned by innovations such as new composite materials, advanced aerodynamics free from the constraints of a top-mounted main rotor, and a revolutionary approach to propulsion. Additionally, a simpler design compared to the helicopter makes it simpler to operate. With an order book of over 18,000 future mobility aircraft (eVTOLs, eCTOL, and drones) accounting for around $111 billion in sales, per McKinsey, the future of air mobility start-ups is bright.

The increasing regulatory approvals for eVTOLs underscore the imminent commercialization. Notably, Joby's inaugural production aircraft, manufactured at their Marina Municipal Airport facility in California, obtained airworthiness certification in June 2023. Concurrently, German eVTOL manufacturer Lilium announced its approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for air taxi certification, marking a significant milestone as the first power-lift aircraft developer to secure clearance from both the US and the EU regulators. Furthermore, Archer Aviation announced in August 2023 that its Midnight eVTOL has met all FAA safety criteria for commencing flight testing operations. Moreover, The ePlane Company, another eVTOL manufacturer, reported in May 2023 that it had received design organization approval from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. In April 2023, Guardian Agriculture, a leading developer of eVTOL systems for sustainable farming on a commercial scale, disclosed its nationwide operational approval from the FAA. These developments signify a strong push towards the mainstream adoption of eVTOLs.

From a technological viewpoint, advancements in pivotal areas such as satellite communication, computational power, artificial intelligence, sensor technology, robotics, and battery technology are expediting the timeline for the commercialization of eVTOLs. Enhanced satellite communication facilitates real-time data transfer, enabling eVTOLs to navigate seamlessly through airspace. AI algorithms are fundamental for autonomous flight, enabling eVTOLs to adapt to dynamic environments, make split-second decisions, and optimize flight paths based on traffic, weather, and other real-time factors. Robotics plays a critical role in the stability and maneuverability of eVTOLs, and is also integral to the design of components, such as rotors and propulsion systems, optimizing performance and efficiency.

The total addressable market for eVTOLs is expected to will reach $57 billion by 2030, according to Morgan Stanley. While the ultimate aim of eVTOL manufacturers is to implement a shared model for customers to maximize utilization, initial applications will primarily focus on emergency medical services, organ transport, VIP air-limo services (potentially replacing helicopters), search-and-rescue operations, police/fire support, last-mile cargo delivery, surveillance, and agricultural usage. Furthermore, scheduled shuttle services, like airport-to-downtown routes and corporate shuttle services, which demonstrate a consistent demand, are additional areas where eVTOLs can play a significant role.

Despite all the positive developments, eVTOL companies are taking on significant challenges such as payload range combination, unit economics, infrastructure, and certifications. One critical aspect, particularly concerning batteries, is the intricate tradeoff between payload and power. Bulky and heavy batteries pose significant hurdles as they consume a substantial amount of energy during takeoff and landing. This not only diminishes the flying range of eVTOLs but also imposes limitations on the volume of cargo they can effectively transport. Current battery technologies limit eVTOL flights to only an hour, making it difficult for eVTOLs to adhere to FAA regulations that mandate additional fuel reserves, requiring an extra 30 minutes during the day and 45 minutes at night for flight plans. As eVTOL companies strive to achieve economies of scale, they face the task of optimizing production costs, enhancing operational efficiency, and driving down the overall cost per unit. Furthermore, the development of a supportive infrastructure is crucial for the successful integration of eVTOLs into existing transportation ecosystems.

2021 proved to be a watershed moment for eVTOL start-ups, marked by billion-dollar exits, huge venture deals, and more partnerships, leading to a proliferation of start-ups in the sector. All eVTOL vehicle developers are going to differentiate themselves as much as possible. Beta Technologies, a Vermont-based eVTOL startup, is emerging as a strong contender in the race for large-scale eVTOL commercialization. Orders from clients such as UPS, a cargo airline, and Blade, an urban air mobility platform, underscore the confidence of customers in Beta’s eVTOL. Volocopter differentiates itself in the eVTOL space by leveraging a distinctive design featuring multiple rotors, ensuring redundancy for increased safety, and emphasizing urban air mobility solutions with a focus on passenger transport. California-based OverAir sets itself apart through its emphasis on versatility, offering eVTOL solutions designed for both passenger and cargo transport. The company, which raised a $145 million Series B round in 2022, distinguishes itself by prioritizing flexibility in its aircraft design and operational capabilities.

From Text to Multimedia - Generative AI Juggernaut Rolls On

The advent of the consumer AI revolution began with text-based chatbots. While such chatbot platforms currently dominate the consumer AI sector, the widespread adoption of generative AI companions encompassing voice, music, video, and 3D capabilities has the potential to drive substantial incremental growth. To illustrate, the console and PC gaming market experienced remarkable growth, expanding from $6 billion in 1975 to $29 billion in 2000. During this period, the market share of text and spreadsheet games drastically declined from approximately 60% to a mere 1%, as depicted below:

In a manner akin to the video game industry, the landscape of consumer AI applications is poised for a transformation, transitioning from text-based use cases to encompass immersive audio-visual and 3D experiences. Recent advancements, such as Google AI Test Kitchen’s MusicLM and Meta's release of its music generator as open source, have ignited high expectations for a revolutionary "GPT moment" in AI-driven music composition. Companies like OpenAI have pioneered AI models like MuseNet and Jukin Media's Jukin Composer, capable of creating musical compositions spanning a diverse array of styles and genres. Notably, AI can now produce music that rivals human-made compositions, establishing itself as a formidable tool in the music industry. For instance, Splice, a New York-based startup, leverages AI technology to enable its users to create unique combinations of sounds in different styles, keys, and tempos. With the global music streaming market anticipated to surge from $35.53 billion in 2022 to $103.07 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 14.7%, per SkyQuest, startups operating in the AI-powered music generation sphere are strategically positioned to seize a substantial portion of this expansive and rapidly expanding market. Additionally, within the domain of speech synthesis, Meta has unveiled its state-of-the-art Voicebox model, concurrent with the emergence of open-source alternatives. ElevenLabs and are key startups emerging in the speech application of generative AI.

Moreover, video generation, a multifaceted process, is now hinging on a suite of AI applications encompassing text-driven video production, audience-specific customization, and data-driven insights to guide content creators in their future endeavors. An early instantiation of this production model has already yielded tangible results, as exemplified by the "Nothing, Forever" Seinfeld parody sitcom, which leverages generative AI for dialogue generation and has garnered an impressive following of nearly 100,000. Video content creation faces relentless pressure to meet escalating project delivery demands, driven by stringent deadlines resulting from the upsurge in VFX (Visual Effects)-intensive content and the need for swift releases. This challenge is exacerbated by the expanding volume of content released on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, as evidenced by the 449 movies released in the US and Canada in 2022 compared to 334 in 2020, according to Statista. Runway, a text-to-video startup, has dramatically reduced editing time for programs like The Late Show, leading to remarkable efficiency gains. Prominent post-production house Assembly has also witnessed significant time savings, underscoring the practical impact of Runway's capabilities. The allure of cost optimization is another driving factor that attracts both customers and investors. Traditional VFX costs for projects like a 30-second promotional video typically range from $1,500 to $2,500. In contrast, Runway offers a range of pricing options, including a free tier for videos up to 60 seconds, an affordable standard account at $12 per month, an advanced Pro account at $28 per month, and the flagship unlimited account at $76 per month. As the demand for swift and cost-effective video content creation continues to surge, text-to-video startups like Runway and Synthesia are poised to become highly valuable enterprises in the future. These AI-driven platforms will empower businesses to enhance their online presence and expand their reach, from product demonstrations to promotional materials. Content creators will leverage these tools to seamlessly transform text-based content into engaging videos, broadening their audience and impact. Additionally, the entertainment industry is increasingly embracing such platforms for substantial time and cost savings. Notable successes, such as "The Crow," a Cannes Short Film Festival jury award-winning short film created using OpenAI's CLIP, and Vera Drew's debut feature, "The People's Joker," produced with Runway, exemplify the transformative potential of text-to-video platforms. The text-to-video AI market is projected to reach around $900 million by 2027 at a CAGR of 37.1% between 2023 and 2027, per MarketsandMarkets, further underscoring the vast opportunities within this burgeoning industry.

In 3D content generation, generative AI is progressively gaining traction in commercial sectors, particularly within the fields of design and advertising. However, widespread accessibility is still in its early stages. The metaverse, on the other hand, presents a compelling potential demand for an abundant supply of 3D content and user-friendly tools to populate virtual spaces. This creates a dynamic market for 3D assets that bridge the virtual and real-world domains. The emergence of a new class of generative AI applications, powered by platforms such as ChatGPT (by OpenAI) and Stable Diffusion (by Stability AI), is poised to simplify the process of creating digital twin simulations and 3D interactive experiences and environments. This technological advancement has the potential to revolutionize various industries that have already enthusiastically embraced these innovations, including gaming, automotive, manufacturing, and healthcare. The global metaverse market is projected to grow from $83.9 billion in 2023 to reach $1,309 billion by 2023 at a CAGR of 48%. Generative AI startups offering 3D content creation will reap huge revenues from this large and growing market.

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