From Back to the Future to the Jetsons, flying cars have been soaring through the skies of fictional city scapes for many decades. But despite the promises made by authors, filmmakers, and artists of a flying car future, the concept has existed purely within the realms of fantasy.
Although if Airspeeder – a ground-breaking Australian-based motorsport company – has anything to say about it, that won’t be the case for much longer.
Dubbed the ‘F1 of flying cars’, Airspeeder events will see up to 10 electric verticals take-off and landing (eVTOL) ‘speeders’ compete against each other through a series of high-octane races taking place in remote locations throughout the world. While initially controlled remotely as part of its ‘EXA' series, these high-performance, drone-like vehicles will soon be manned by experienced pilots, with a format similar to other motorsports we know today.
Airspeeder originally approached Telstra Purple to develop a close collision avoidance system that would allow racing speeders to digitally ‘bump’ without ever physically touching. Although as conversations progressed, our teams identified a range of technological solutions to address some of Airspeeder’s most pressing pain points.
Addressing the need for connectivity where none exists
In addition to ensuring pilot and vehicle safety through collision avoidance, Airspeeder required fast and reliable connectivity infrastructure.
As test flights and races take place in some of the world’s most remote locations, existing networking infrastructure is in low supply. This was a significant challenge, as the cars or ‘speeders’ require constant, low-latency connectivity to each other and ground control teams, with massive amounts of data constantly transmitted to ensure safety and to improve performance.
This includes a range of telemetry data (such as speed, temperature, altitude and battery consumption) and several video feeds that all needed to be captured and sent to centralised control teams, located on site. Airspeeder also needed a way to streamline this process and easily make sense of the data being transmitted, so they can analyse certain metrics and make improvements to their vehicles and races.
As races were made to be mobile, network infrastructure also had to be portable, so it could be packed up and moved to a new location, without causing environmental damage.
Building a world-class solution from scratch
After working closely with Airspeeder through consultation sessions occurring over a few months, Telstra Purple developed a private, secure communications network from scratch, capable of handling massive amounts of bandwidth in temporary, remote locations. At the core of this is a state-of-the-art race control system, connecting terabytes of data for robust vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications.
Data feeds containing a range of essential technical status information and video are collected from each speeder and sent to teams on the ground during test flights and races. Data is displayed visually for easy interpretation, allowing teams to quickly respond as necessary. Speeders also communicate with each other, with near real-time data and connectivity powering proximity sensors that deliver haptic vibration alerts to ensure close collision avoidance.
As a lot of this data needs to be processed locally, Telstra Purple delivered an edge computing solution, allowing Airspeeder to securely process and store mission-critical data on site. We also leveraged our partnership with AWS to provide highly scalable cloud connectivity, providing a centralised resource for real-time data storage and analytics to help accelerate improvements to speeders and races.
The infrastructure, provided in partnership with Coda Wireless and CBO Telecommunications, can be deployed very quickly and packaged up for transport to different countries, providing the flexibility Airspeeder required.
Telstra Purple is also helping Airspeeder build Augmented Reality ‘gates’ to assist pilots in navigating through the race. These gates govern the layout of the track and are displayed to pilots via an AR overlay.
“While our relationship started with a simple conversation about safety, it became apparent quite quickly that there was a lot more on offer from Telstra than just that. We realised that Telstra could actually support us with a whole gamut of things, from allowing vehicles to fly safely, to broadcasting, to cutting edge technologies and introducing new partners as well.”
Jack Withinshaw, Chief Commercial Officer at Airspeeder
Powering a flying car future
Racing provides an important testbed to rapidly develop key safety, powertrain and engineering elements that will help drive an advanced air mobility future. Enabled by Telstra Purple, Airspeeder now has the crucial connectivity and data infrastructure necessary for testing and races to occur, supporting its vision to accelerate the electric flying car mobility revolution.
The organisation’s first set of events – the EXA series – will involve non-manned speeders controlled remotely. Data streams and analysis from this series are crucial for developing the sport and building the knowledge necessary to safely deploy manned speeders in the future.
Delivering connectivity in remote locations, without existing infrastructure, effectively brings a ‘microcosm of a city’ where one didn’t exist before. This first-of-its-kind achievement is made possible through the power of our expertise, underpinned by the industry’s best in-house consultants and partnerships with market-leading organisations.
It could have a transformative impact on how Telstra delivers networking services in times of crisis – such as during bushfires – or help us to build on key services for industries such as mining, agriculture, defence, and aerospace as well as sport, media, and entertainment.
Ultimately though, Telstra Purple’s work with Airspeeder lays the groundwork for an innovative future where 5G powers the vertical transport revolution. While networking services are currently delivered through private infrastructure, as 5G progresses it will eventually power the connectivity requirements that flying cars require, spurring an impact beyond racing – moving flying cars out of science fiction and into the real world.