We Get Real AF

Ep 96: Flying Cars and Your Future Commute - with Diana Siegel of Electra Aero

September 20, 2021 Vanessa Alava & Sue Robinson Season 2 Episode 96
We Get Real AF
Ep 96: Flying Cars and Your Future Commute - with Diana Siegel of Electra Aero
Show Notes Transcript

Imagine commuting to work via flying taxis!  That could be reality for major metropolitan areas in the next 4-5 years.  Sue and Vanessa get a peek at future commuter life from Diana Siegel, expert in ESTOL (Extremely Short Takeoff and Landing) technology, and the Director of Strategy for Electra Aero.

Find Diana Siegel Online:

 LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/diana-siegel/?originalSubdomain=ch

Electra Aero
https://www.electra.aero/team/diana-siegel

We Get Real AF Podcast Credits:

Producers & Hosts: Vanessa Alava & Sue Robinson

Vanessa Alava

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Sue Robinson

LinkedIn Instagram Twitter 

Audio Producer/Editor: Sam Mclean  

Instagram    Website

Technical Director: Mitchell Machado

LinkedIn   Reset Gaming

Audio Music Track Title: Beatles Unite

Artist: Rachel K. Collier

YouTube Channel Instagram Website

Intro Voice-Over Artist: Veronica Horta

LinkedIn

Cover Artwork Photo Credit: Alice Moore 

Unsplash 

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Sue Robinson  

Welcome to we get real AF everyone I'm Sue Robinson.

 

Vanessa Alava 

And I'm Vanessa Alava. We are doing some fun new things on social you should check out you can find us at we get real AF across all platforms including live streams on twitch and video recordings on YouTube. And if you haven't already, please take a quick moment to subscribe rate and comment on the show.

 

Sue Robinson 

Well, Who among us has at some point been stuck in a traffic jam or faced a long daily commute to work I know that I have. The pandemic has certainly relieved some of that traffic over the past year. But as more people leave big urban areas to work hybrid jobs, the need for efficient ways to commute potentially over longer distances isn't going away. So joining us today to talk about an emerging form of commuting by air is Diana Siegel. Diana is director of strategy for Electra Aero, a company developing hybrid electrical aircraft designed for ultra short takeoff and landing. These commuter aircraft will provide sustainable close in access to urban centers without the need for a runway. Prior to her role with Electra. Diana oversaw electric aircraft projects for both Boeing and Porsche. Diana holds an MS in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor's in electrical engineering from the University of Queensland, Australia. And she is joining us today all the way from beautiful Lucerne, Switzerland. Diana. Welcome.

 

Vanessa Alava 

Welcome. Thank you so much. 

Diana

Hi, Sue. Hi, Vanessa. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

 

Sue Robinson 

We're so delighted to have you. And before we learn more about the future of commuting by air, and in my head, I have to admit, this probably dates me but I think of the Jetsons and they're cute little cars. Anyway, before we dive into all that, can you tell us how folks can find you online and also Electra Aero online? Sure. So

 

Diana Siegel

you can find Electra Aero under www.electraero.com You can find me on LinkedIn under Diana Seigel and also electrode error or just email me at seagull Diana at electro dot era.

 

Sue Robinson 

Awesome. So I know there are a couple of acronyms that are really important in your industry. One is E style. I think it's pronounced. And can you tell us a little bit about what electrical what the types of vehicles are that you're you're involved in developing?

 

Diana Seigel 

Sure. So at Electra era we are developing, where we positive acquired e store aircraft that's really targeted at serving regional, sort of like an urban Air Mobility markets. Really extreme ultra short takeoffs and landings were about 100 foot or something, you're becoming airborne so that you could take off and land within basically the size of a parking lot or a garage. So really something that we could see place sort of like in every city community, every smaller town, so you could create this high speed air connectivity network, directly between cities sort of like rather than having to go through large airports, right, that are typically at the outskirts of town, right, that takes you an hour or more to get just to and through to really sort of like help build that kind of high speed connectivity between our cities and regions.

 

Sue Robinson 

I know that we've seen some real demographic shifts here in the US post pandemic, as people move to more remote areas, you know, some of their work they can do remotely, but some of it they still have to be able to commute in and out. So can you kind of give us a picture of how your company sees the future of commuting 

Diana Siegel 

Yeah, this is this is really a technology that could just expand your radius of life, right sort of like be that for where you live, or when you get to spend your weekends who you might be able to visit sort of like in the evenings, who, particularly in a world where you might not have to go to the office every day, but you might be going once or twice a week. You could imagine sort of like taking one of these he stole aircraft for maybe 100 mile trip or 60, even up to 150 miles and basically get there within 30 minutes to an hour. Something that first from a timing perspective is doable, and also from an affordability perspective is very much doable, because if you look at how much you could actually save in terms of your rent rate or your house price living further out, sort of like from a large populated area and kind of balance that with the pricing that we're imagining for that kind of service. That is something that will become very much affordable for the average person, not just for a very selected few VIPs that might be even doing this today with helicopters.

 

Vanessa Alava 

Can you explain or speak a little bit to the technology that allows for such speed within such a short distance?

 

Diana  

So in our case, what we're doing is I'm just imagine a very conventional aircraft fuselage, wing, a tail, but instead of just adding one or two engines to either the the nose or the wing, what you do is you place eight, small electric propulsors, along the full span of the wing, and imagine sort of blowing that wing very intensely with those small electric propulsors, if you blow the wing intensely with those proposals, the wing is able to make much more lift at much slower speed. And therefore, you're able to take in a much takeoff in a much shorter distance than you could if he didn't have that technology. So we're taking off at something like 30 miles an hour, right, an extremely slow speed compared to a conventional aircraft. So really something that's that's city driving speed for a car, right? It's a slow, take up just leveraging the power of blown lift and electric propulsion.

 

It's like, it's like accelerating with a car from a stoplight right up to 30 miles an hour, we do it all the time. And well, instead of continuing to drive, imagine you'd be taking off at the at the end of that acceleration.

 

Vanessa Alava  

That's incredible.

 

Sue Robinson 

Do you envision this technology being like, at some someday people having this instead of a car in addition to a car? Or is it going to be more like a public transportation 

Diana 

That's a great question. Because every time we're talking about the Jetsons, right, and this idea of the term flying car, right, the image that pops into your mind, well, I'm going to have the sitting in my garage, right, and I'm just going to take off vertically and sort of like fly to wherever like to go to work to the grocery store to visit a friend. But it to your point, when essence really intended to be at least initially right to be more of a managed service, something that professional operators would provide, You fly from one sky port to the other, then you might use ground transport on the other end as well but really intended to be more of a managed service rather than something that you and I would necessarily drive around like we do our cars today.

 

Vanessa Alava 

So I hear a lot of individual passengers but do you also see this being leveraged as somewhat of a you know, public bus transportation where you're carrying multiple passengers at once? 

 

Diana

We are looking at sizes around five to nine passengers. That's a good size to be able to do a extreme short takeoff and landing not as much as in a large aircraft, we're not talking about 50 to 150 people.

 

Sue Robinson 

How far in the future? 

 

Diana 

we expect to see first routes and first use cases popping up over the next five years, starting sort of, in 2025, to towards 2030. 

Sue Robinson 

What cities will y'all be doing this in? Initially?

 

Diana

You could imagine operating this in the Northeast Corridor, right between Boston sort of like in New York to Philadelphia to DC, connecting the Cape Cod Nantucket, right, those kind of places. Imagine in California metro area, Los Angeles connecting with like, all those different areas in that region. And it shouldn't just be limited to the coastal areas, right? We see a lot of use cases in Texas sort of like be that also in the Midwest. And then really, anywhere, sort of like globally, right. Like that should not be a solution that just sort of like applicable to you, to the US. But we really see a lot of opportunity there. Worldwide, right? For any region that's looking to establish a high speed, high speed connectivity between their cities where maybe there's a lot of road congestion, and it doesn't necessarily make sense to put a train in.

Vanessa Alava 

I know it's early on still. But you've mentioned affordability. And what does, uh, I don't know, a pass for this type of, you know, travel cost, or even like a one one way ticket or two way ticket for the day, like what what conversations have been had surrounding the financials on this?

 

Diana 

In the beginning, obviously, it's going to be a little expensive. But as sort of utilization of those vehicles growth grow. As the fleet numbers grow, as the operation gets gets smoothed out, we expect that price to come down. And we're really targeting a price range of you know, something that you'd pay for an Uber today, per per mile, that is a very much achievable number. And if you were to take a 60 mile trip, right, that would cost you on the order of $100. So that's that's something that you wouldn't do necessarily every day for you everyday. As we were talking before, if you're taking a trip once or twice a week into the into the city that might be very much, very much affordable.

 

Vanessa Alava  

That's actually a lot more affordable than the number I had in my head for sure.

 

Sue Robinson  1

And I'd also like to talk about the sustainability -how does that piece of it work?

 

Diana

so our aircraft is designed to be hybrid electric. So it uses a combination of battery sort of like and a liquid fuel, but simply sort of sections were targeting longer ranges on the order sort of, of 200 nautical miles, or 250. statute miles plus in battery technology isn't quite there yet to do that all electrically. But even with a hybrid design, we're finding that we're able to beat say, if we wouldn't take five passengers and our vehicle that sets seven people, we're actually finding that that's using a lot less energy or fuel burn, then if those five passengers were to take that car ride and take that that exact same trip, so we're really able to offer to our communities to cities, a more sustainable system. We might reimagine what the city of the future looks like, right, that might be more built around to human rather than the personal car ride, like micromobility, to be able to get around sort of like close to where you live. Ideally sort of like with it sets things up in a way where you can walk to the office, you can actually get your groceries done within a walk right and have sort of like recreational facilities also in such a way that you wouldn't necessarily need to need to drive right and leverage sort of like micromobility for those kinds of trips during the day. And then if you have a longer trip that you're looking to to do between one urban center and the other. You could establish basically that high speed 

Vanessa Alava 

Well, they you know, we always love exploring jobs of the future. Can you chat with us about what type of jobs will be created by you know, this, this new era, right of the of flying taxis? Basically.

 

Diana

So a lot goes into the engineering, the electric propulsion systems are, that's new technology, right? So a great new, great opportunity for young talent -But then if you look at the next stage, right, where we're really looking to commercialize that technology, integrated with the rest of the transport mix, really start providing the service to passengers. It's just a lot of opportunity there on the operations of that vehicle, the communications to marketing, making sure that we communicate about this technology, right, and the value that could bring to humanity to make sure that people there embrace it.

 

Sue Robinson 

In that vein, I would love to hear more about your own career path. I know you have a couple of engineering degrees Aeronautical and electrical engineering, I believe, and tell us what your journey has been. 

Diana 

Yeah, so for me, I mean, I've always sort of like love math, science, sort of like STEM subjects in high school. So it was pretty obvious to me I was gonna do something in you know, tech or engineering, and always had a fascination with flying, not necessarily with flying yourself, right. But with the idea of building flying machines, like it just seemed so incredible to me as a as a species, right, we're not built to be able to fly but that, you know, with his human intellect, with with working through problems, we could actually create machines that could take us from one end of the globe to the other right, within a matter of a day. Just always been fascinating to me, and I wanted to be part of that industry. So I've enrolled in engineering, actually electrical engineering for for undergrad, then got lucky to work for a couple of larger aerospace companies in Germany for Lufthansa, Technik. And maintenance engineering, and then the defense side of what is now Airbus Group, as a design engineer, great experience. So just learned sort of like how an operation works, how a large engineering project is set up, right and how all the pieces come together. And then went back to grad school actually studied aerospace engineering got lucky to get into MIT and work with just a wonderful sort of group of professors and students that were just super keen on, I guess, changing the world right -I don't know luck would have it but actually didn't end up in aerospace engineering after graduating from from my Masters, but ended up going into management consulting with the Boston Consulting Group. And I think that that was eye opening, just an awesome experience that I'm still drawing on today, because it just got this great insight into how large corporations function, how they make decisions quickly, right also with limited kind of information. And that that was just a great exposure to another side of the world, right to the business world rather than just the pure engineering side of things. But a few years in, at an alumni dinner got acquainted with the CEO of overflight sciences, a company I'd always admired, based out of Virginia, in the US that had just built amazing plane sort of long endurance planes, robotic airplanes, highly, highly automated airplanes. And they had big plans to get into the commercial side of things sort of like had a couple of projects underway. So I joined them. And about a year in, we kicked off the flying car project or the air taxi project, prior to the Uber elevate conference, back in 2017, that really put this entire idea of urban Air Mobility on the map. But with that project, we traded a bunch of configurations, built a sub scale aircraft design, a quarter scale, aircraft seven foot long just to show that the technology could in principle in principle work. And well, about a year later, we were acquired by the Boeing Company, which then gave us the opportunity to actually build that aircraft, that was an Eevee to another store. So an all electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, they gave us the opportunity to build that full scale, I was lucky to get to be the program manager, the program lead for that. And we do basically the team from GS, our small group of five people that have basically put together this little aircraft in a garage, grew that team to 100 people that and built a serious one time sort of like full scale people sized aircraft to show that an all electric how well sort of like an all electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could work. And we got to fly that about a year into that into that program, which was, which was super exciting for me. But yeah, I mean, for various reasons, including the epidemic. That program didn't continue after, but gave me the opportunity to follow the former CEO of our flight sciences, john Langford was now the founder and CEO of Electra arrow basically gave me the opportunity to follow him to Electra and pursue he stole, which, when we were trading designs always felt like, well, this is a really interesting alternative that we really should look at. So I ended up basically in my current role through that path.

 

Sue Robinson 

Amazing. And, you know, I, when you said, As a kid, you always thought it was so cool to think about. We're not designed as humans to fly, but we can design machines that can take us, you know, anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. I'm always in awe of airplanes and bridges. For some reason, anytime I get on an airplane, or I cross a bridge, I'm just like, dang, you know, this is amazing technology. So I'm right there with you.

 

Vanessa Alava 

The sheer joy is coming off of Diana like, you can just tell she's enjoyed every minute of her career and getting to just play. I mean, that's exactly what it sounds like you just been playing this entire time. It's awesome.

 

Sue Robinson 

Working hard, but enjoying it

 

Diana 

There’s always like hard times, right? The all nighters until 5am in frustrations, right, when things don't work out? No. But I think that's part of it. Right? If it was easy, I think it wouldn't be a memorable experience, it wouldn't feel that rewarding. At the end of the day, I think you have to have these these hard times in there as well. Right? Just accept that they're part of the game and push through and keep going.

 

Vanessa Alava 

I just think that you know, there's such an opportunity, early education and start teaching our kids like what is out there what's going to be, you know, in their sights of like, What's attainable and what they can look into as far as new careers so, so, so exciting. And that

 

Diana 

that's really what it's exciting for kids or at least I felt as as a teenager. And then as a young adults, what excited me was to work on things where you could actually create something new. So I guess for one reason why I didn't end up in in aerospace right after grad school is, the industry seemed kind of boring at that time, right, there was two large players that no offense to either of them right but built the same airplane over and over again, that there was only so much innovation. And lightly, of course, also driven by, with what you can do with the technology, right with where regulation was at. And now we're really at a point where we're seeing just a tremendous amount of innovation in aerospace where there's a new class of vehicle coming in, we haven't seen a new class of vehicle in aerospace since the 50s, or 60s, since the jet age and then maybe the helicopter. So it's really an exciting time in aerospace. And I'm really hoping a lot of young folks will, will join us and choose that as a career. Absolutely.

 

 

Vanessa Alava 

All right. Are we ready for the lightning round? I think so. You want to kick it off?

 

Sue Robinson 

Sure. I'll start off asking one that we love to ask all of our guests, which is three pieces of advice you would give your younger self?

 

Diana 

That's a great question. First one would be to be more proactive. I think particularly in my very early days first or second job, right. I think I felt too shy and probably also too impolite, and felt that it was impolite right, to speak up sort of like as a newbie, when you felt Well, why are we doing things like that? Right? Wouldn't that be a simpler way to do it? And why are we not looking into this opportunity? And I would really tell myself, Well, most of the time, people actually look favorably on people putting in suggestions, right, and really being that kind of proactive in the conversation. So one thing I would do. And second would be when choosing a job to really pay disproportionate attention to who is going to be your direct manager and who are going to be the mentors, right that you'd be working with regularly, that really are the people that have just such an extreme impact on what you get exposed to right, what you get to learn and that that should be extremely important, more important than the salary even. And last one would be to just not dwell on your mistakes right at the end of the day, we'll all make them and I think as females were sometimes pretty good at putting ourselves down overdose, but if you didn't make them, you know, sort of like you didn't push yourself hard enough. Important to just deal with it, move on and

 

Vanessa Alava 

Fantastic advice. All right, Diana, how do you define success.

 

Diana  

To me, it's really waking up every morning and knowing that if I've worked on a project that creates something completely new, right, and has the opportunity basically to reshape how we we live and work.

 

Sue Robinson  

What resources do you wish existed for women in tech or looking to get into tech that don't currently exist?

 

Diana 

So for me, growing up, I felt I was really lacking a broad sort of, like set of female role models, right? In all the spectrums of opportunities that that you would have. And I'd really wish sort of like we'd showcase women more like that. And I'm so excited about the work that you're doing, because you do exactly that, right. This will be broadening the horizon for women and girls who as they get into the workforce, and think about what they're going to do with their lives. Thank you.

 

Vanessa Alava  

What celebrity would you cast to play you in a movie?

 

Diana 

Well, we're not exactly in the same age group. But I'm a huge fan of Meryl Streep, I feel any character, any age, and she's not afraid to speak her mind - love her. So

 

Sue Robinson 

If there's an obstacle or a situation that you encountered in your career as a woman, tell us the story behind that if you can think of one and how you how you managed it?

 

Diana 

One typical thing, I guess, that most women will find, right, if you're, if you have really the direct comparison and being sort of like in a meeting that's maybe more women dominated versus being in a meeting that's more male, dominated, to volume of speaking is louder in the male meeting. And the tone right, it's different. It's more assertive. His voices go down at the end of the sentence, whereas in women's conversations, they tend to go up The inviting sort of like more discourse conversation, right and sort of like decision making, whereas in male dominated settings, I've found it's very much driven, sort of like by the hierarchy, Raise your voice, right, if you have to, and make your point and make your stance and it'll get better over time.

 

Vanessa Alava  

All right, last one, fill in the blank, blank, like a girl. 

 

Diana

Go for it. Like a girl.

 

Sue Robinson 

Yay. Yes, certainly done that. I've really enjoyed this. And really appreciate your time today, Diana. Likewise, Diana,

 

Vanessa Alava 

Thank you for your energy. You're just lovely.