5 Questions with Karthik Balakrishnan

Airbus on the future of Air Mobility

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You probably know Airbus, but you may be unfamiliar with its new A3 project, an advanced outpost of Airbus in Silicon Valley. Working on the next technological breakthrough in urban air mobility, they aim to disrupt the future of transport system by making urban air travel affordable and accessible.

 

Joining us at TECHX Asia this 6-7 September is one of their key team members, Karthik Balakrishnan. Most recently the cofounder and CTO of Coin, a VC backed digital payment and consumer electronic startup acquired by FitBit, the Stanford PhD graduate also used to work with NASA Ames and Goddard, and The Aerospace Corporation, on projects ranging from planet-exploring robots to launch vehicles. We got the chance to grab Karthik and his team prior to the conference so he could share some of his insights ahead of the event.

 

Q: Please tell us about A3 and why we should be excited about it

Karthik: A3 (pronounced “A-cubed”) is the advanced projects outpost of Airbus in Silicon Valley. We’re on a mission: disrupt Airbus (and thus the rest of the aerospace industry) before someone else does. From re-imagining the cabin layout on a commercial flight to enabling modern, urban air mobility, we’ve set out to define the future of flight. Learn more about A3 and its projects at www.airbus-sv.com and follow us on Twitter @AirbusSV.

 

Q: On Airbus’ vision on the future of air mobility, how do we bridge the gap between now and the future, and how do we get there?

Karthik: We’re aiming to create technologies that you’ll find for decades to come or even longer on everything that flies. Doing that successfully requires a deliberate, collaborative approach and rapid experimentation, with an eye to both engineering and commercialization. We could rush to build some neat gadgets and science experiments, but that’s not why we’re here. Every project that we build has to go through a rigorous analysis to determine if there’s a solid business case for the envisaged end product. We have a high level of risk tolerance, and learn from every iteration of our projects.

 

Q: What drives the passion to create the next breakthrough in air mobility? What are the steps required to let it take its flights?

Karthik: The aerospace industry has changed rapidly. There has been a dramatic lowering of barriers to entry, which means that major technological evolutions are inevitable. We believe that it’s best to identify them early on and be a part of the process of commercializing them, instead of being on the receiving end of someone beating us to it.

 

Q: Please give us a quick preview of your sharing at TECHX

Karthik: Per the areas defined by TECHX:

  • Defining the future of urban mobility
  • Exploring strategies to integrate manned-unmanned airspace
  • Overcoming challenges in implementing collaborative unmanned systems in urban settings
  • 5G and other emerging tech in building the future of air mobility

UAS technology is maturing rapidly and compelling business models and uses are emerging. In the urban context these include mobility not just of people but also cargo and information (such as inspections and surveillance).  But that promise can’t materialize until ATM and communications infrastructure catches up. Solutions can’t just focus in on one type of aircraft, or a specific usage of aircraft, or the requirements of a single air traffic corridor. They have to manage all airborne traffic, and systems need to harmonize with each other.

Because different vehicles have different missions profiles, available payload capacity, etc., there will be a “mixed equipage problem” that needs to be solved. Essentially, vehicles that talk using different technologies need somehow to be able to talk to each other. 5G technologies will make it possible for margin-sensitive applications to enter the urban context, but other applications may require redundant systems, satcom, or even traditional radios.

 

Karthik is just one of the over 130 confirmed speakers at the conference. Join Karthik at TECHX Asia conference this 6-7 September. Visit our website to find out more and book your tickets.

 

Tickets are just SGD $950 per person when you buy 3 or more. Book now.

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