The ePlane Company has raised $1 million seed capital in a funding round led by Speciale Invest and Indian American entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant.
Other investors who participated include FirstCheque.vc, the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad’s CIIE incubator and Java Capital, The Economic Times reported.
The startup is trying to develop flying electric taxis to counter traffic congestion in cities. The funds will be used to support the company’s prototype stage over the next year, it added.
The ePlane Company was incubated from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras by Satya Chakravarthy, a professor of aerospace at the institute, 2019 IIT Madras graduate Pranjal Mehta.
The duo, with a team of 15 engineers, has tested a small-scale manned prototype of its electric taxi and is looking to build a larger sized model with 50 kg payload by mid-2021, the report said.
Mehta, who is CEO of the company, told the paper that flying taxis would service door-to-door commuting in cities, adding: “while there are several similar efforts across the world, ours is a tech-centric approach.”
Concept wise, it is similar to the British Harrier fighter aircraft but does not overlap with many global flying taxi concepts – most of which are short runway or rotor reliant for flight, the report said.
“We’ve developed IP here in Chennai on how to make a taxi like this extremely efficient and this has been proven in computer simulations,” Mehta added.
The design is for a multi-rotor compact aircraft that can carry two individuals over 200 km. The model is being designed to facilitate “multiple short hops and to eventually land on rooftops and in front of a passenger’s doorstep,” the report added.
Chakravarthy said the aircraft will use conventional lithium-ion batteries which will be optimised to make it safer for multi-rotor design and reduce noise compared to a conventional helicopters.
In terms of functioning, the aircraft design allows vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and will also use wings to produce aerodynamic lift during flight, “to make it more efficient.”
Chakravarthy added that the taxi will be “complaint with all of today’s regulations for aircrafts. We will therefore have a human piloted version, so for now we’re focusing on that.” He was optimistic that autonomous flight taxis will “become the norm at some point.”