In the bustling urban landscapes of India, where traffic congestion is a daily ordeal, the ePlane Company emerges as a beacon of innovation in urban transportation.
The startup, founded by Prof. Satyanarayanan Chakravarthy and Pranjal Mehta, is addressing a critical issue faced by millions: the inefficiency and environmental impact of traditional road-based commuting.
With cities grappling with endless traffic jams and choked roads, the need for an alternative, efficient mode of transportation is more pressing than ever.
To solve this issue, ePlane Company is developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, commonly called "flying taxis,” which can revolutionise urban mobility by offering a faster, more sustainable way to navigate congested cityscapes.
Traditional transportation methods are not only time-consuming but also contribute heavily to environmental pollution. eVTOLs, on the other hand, provide a cleaner, more efficient alternative.
They are designed to take off and land vertically, eliminating the need for long runways and making them ideal for intra-city travel, potentially saving millions of hours lost in traffic and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of daily commutes.
How did it start?
Professor Satyanarayan R. Chakravarthy received his Bachelor of Technology in Aerospace Engineering in 1991 from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1992-1995.
While Satyanarayan was deeply involved in combustion-related research, particularly in automotive, thermal power, and aerospace propulsion, He experienced a profound influence upon watching a video by Stanford Professor Tony Seba.
In the video, Seba discussed the future of transportation and energy, highlighting the shift from combustion engines and coal to electric and solar energy.
He realised that two of the three pillars of his research (combustion cars and coal energy) were becoming obsolete. This led to a decision to pivot towards electric aviation despite the dominance of traditional combustion methods in academia.
He then began educating himself and others about electric aviation, noting a significant presence of startups in this area compared to academia.
While learning and acknowledging the limitations of current battery technology in electric aircraft, particularly in terms of range, he chose to concentrate on urban aerial mobility.
Chakravarthy later co-founded The ePlane Company along with Pranjal Mehta, which was officially launched in 2019 with the aim of developing a compact, two-seater electric air taxi, primarily for the Indian market.
However, Pranjal left the startup in July 2022 and started his own venture in the Generative AI space in April of this year.
Apart from ePlane, Chakravarthy founded and also heads the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development (NCCRD), one of the world’s largest research centres that houses state-of-the-art infrastructure for combustion research.
Notably, He is also a founding member of spacetech startup Agnikul Cosmos, Aerostrovilos Energy, and GalaxEye.
How big is traffic congestion a problem in India?
Traffic congestion in India is a pervasive and critical issue, significantly impacting the daily lives of millions. In 2023, the extent of this problem is evident in various cities across the country, as highlighted by different reports and data.
While Delhi is India's most populated region, Bengaluru is India's most traffic-congested city, followed by Pune, New Delhi, and Mumbai. In 2022, the TomTom Traffic Index ranked Bengaluru as the second-most congested city in the world, after London.
The problem of traffic congestion is not confined to Delhi and Bengaluru but is a common challenge in many of India's most crowded cities. Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Surat, and Jaipur are notorious for their traffic jams and congested streets.
According to the NITI Aayog report, The combined costs for four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru are over $22 billion annually. For Delhi alone, the congestion was estimated to cost the city $10 billion annually.
While these conditions negatively affect the economy, they also hamper daily commuting and reduce productivity and overall quality of life.
Compared to helicopters, which are noisy and unaffordable for most people, “flying taxis” have the potential to provide a fast, economical, and eco-friendly ridesharing alternative.
Building long-range e-planes
The startup has developed four electric aircraft prototypes for different purposes. The e6 is a sustainable logistics solution with a quiet electric motor, capable of carrying small payloads.
The e50, India's largest drone, can carry heavier payloads of up to 50 kg and has been successfully flight-tested. The e100 is a cargo version of the e200, designed to transport up to 100 kg.
The flagship e200 is a two-seater electric taxi, notable for being India's first electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) system. It's compact, about the size of two parked cars, and aims to make flying faster and more convenient.
The ePlane Company believes that its aircraft can operate from rooftops without needing additional infrastructure and is currently working towards commercialising the e200, with plans for a larger five-seater model.
The business model
The ePlane Company is advancing the commercialisation of its drone, Atva (e6), which is now part of a brand named 'Amber Wings'.
Atva's hybrid design allows for efficient operations in surveying and delivery tasks. It's especially useful for tasks like monitoring mines, construction sites, and delivering pharmaceuticals.
The company is also developing two other models, e50 and e200, and is currently in a pre-revenue stage. They plan to sell cargo drones and operate the e200 as a flying taxi for commuters.
By 2025-26, the startup aims to complete further prototyping and testing and begin commercialisation. The Chennai-based startup had also received its Design Organisation Approval (DoA) from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) earlier this year, making it the first private Indian company to receive the certificate for an electric aircraft.
The ePlane Company funding
In December 2020, The ePlane Company raised $1 million in its first round of funding from notable investors, including Speciale Invest, AngelList's Naval Ravikant, Java Capital, First Cheque, Farid Ahsan, and CIIE.CO.
A year later, the startup raised another $5 million in a pre-Series A round led by deep-tech venture capitalist Speciale Invest and EV/climate-focused fund Micelio.
The Pre-Series A funding also saw participation from a consortium of investors, including Naval Ravikant, 3one4 Capital, UTEC (University of Tokyo Edge Capital), Anicut Capital, Infoedge, Prashant Pitti (co-founder of Easemytrip), Thought Ventures, Java Capital and Firstcheque.vc.
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