LONDON — Niklas Zennström, Skype’s cofounder and former CEO, is backing a company building car-sized aircraft in Germany through his venture capital firm Atomico.
Lilium Aviation, a two-year-old Munich startup, received €10 million (£8.4 million) on Monday from Atomico and other investors to help it develop the personal electric planes that are capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL).
Founded by four entrepreneurs in 2014, Lilium envisages building a quiet, lightweight commuter aircraft that will be capable of flying between cities at a height of 3,000m. It is gearing up to test its first full-sized prototype early next year.
With an expected range of 300km and estimated top speed of up to 300km/h, the Lilium Jet is aiming to make inter-city travel, faster than any widely available mass transit system. San Francisco to Palo Alto would take less than 15 minutes, while Munich to Frankfurt would take just over an hour.
“This is a really good example of founders who are using deep technology to take on a very big problem,” said Zennström, who has joined the board of the company, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. “The way we deal with transportation today is broken. There are congestions and to get from East London to West London takes forever. There is pollution in our cities with carbon dioxide so we get climate change.
“Of course you have electrical vehicles and autonomous vehicles to deal with some of those things but really to solve it in a big way we think you need to take to the skies.”
Atomico, which was set up in 2006 and has raised over $600 million (£472 million) to invest in startups, also backed Lilium in a smaller undisclosed round in June. Lilium said it intends to use the new money to expand its existing team of 35 aviation specialists and product engineers.
Other companies are also building personal planes but they’re going about it in a different way. “Others are taking the concept of a drone and making it really big,” said Zennström. “The problem with a drone is the propellers have to create lift all the time so it’s going to use a lot of electricity. But Lilium, they’re just using thrust to get it up and then it transitions to flight mode with the wings using much less energy. About the same as an electrical car. It’s extremely energy efficient.”
Lilium claims that its aircraft — powered by 36 directable electric fans, mounted along the wings and front pods — will be quieter than helicopters and other competitors, while also requiring less infrastructure.
Lilium CEO Daniel Wiegand said in a statement: “When we founded Lilium we had a single, simple goal — to design the best possible means of transportation for the 21st century. With our technology we can triple the radius of people’s lives while preserving our environment, avoiding congestion and eliminating the cost of infrastructure. We can also flexibly connect whole states to single metropolitan areas.
“A personal vertical take-off and landing aircraft has been the dream of generations. It is the ultimate means of transportation. Together with Atomico we share the vision to make this dream come true for everybody, in the form of the VTOL Lilium Jet.”