Future Thoughts: On the dawn of autonomous flight with Gary Gysin of Wisk

Jul 22 2021

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As part of our Future Thoughts series, Airspeeder spoke to Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk. Wisk is an industry leader in the electric vertical takeoff landing (“eVTOL”) sector and is making waves in the realm of autonomous flight.

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Airspeeder: There has never been a more exciting time to be innovating within mobility. Tell us in summary what it is you are doing. Where have you come from? 

Gary Gysin: I’m Silicon Valley born and raised and a serial entrepreneur. At the start of my career, I was very tech-focused: I worked on a data-centre company for example. Two companies ago, I was involved in a project digitisting and revolutionising the electric grid, using IP networks to get consumption information, and much more. It was very exciting to look at a very regulated, traditional industry in a new way. 

I then joined Liquid Robotics which eventually was acquired by Boeing. We created an autonomous ocean robot that stayed out to sea for a year, powered by solar and wave energy and loaded with sensors to transform the way we read ocean data. This technology led to many applications including the tracing of submarines which was clearly very interesting for Boeing’s defense division. My time at Liquid Robotics inspired my interest in autonomy.

In 2019, I left Liquid Robotics and decided to take some time with my family. Shortly after, I was called about a company that Larry Page – the co-founder of Google – had established and was working on with Boeing. They told me about the product, – Cora – the mission and vision of an all-electric, autonomous air taxi service. I thought, if we could pull this off, we could fundamentally change transportation. This is what inspired me to join Wisk as their CEO. 

Who are Wisk?

We are building self-flying eVTOL air taxis. The industry sees autonomy as the holy grail so we want to be the first to go to market fully self-flying. We are already through five generations of the craft and have completed many successful tests. The sixth is coming but I can’t say much about it now. 

Why autonomous? 

We expected the piloted companies to fly first but we and the industry understand that self-flying is safer. We recognise that human pilots are extremely qualified and well-trained, but over 80% of aviation accidents are caused by human pilot error. Secondly, we know that this technology has the potential for easier scalability and mass adoption. While being safer, an autonomous eVTOL craft is also more affordable. This will be a transportation service designed to be affordable for a university student or somebody that has just entered the workforce, while also exceeding consumer experience expectations.

People don’t realise that 93% of all flight hours are already automated.
Gary Gysin CEO, Wisk

This kind of advanced aerial mobility remains a concept very much in the ‘future’ – what do you think we have to do as an industry to build that acceptance from the public? 

I think public acceptance – particularly amongst premium customers – is quite high. We have done focus groups to bring people in who have a desire to solve this transportation problem. The key deal for us is how we get to that mid-market, the affordable market.

There remain questions around noise and some people worry about the visual pollution, seeing multiple eVTOL flying around. I think we’re a long way from that: the sky is a massive place, we have lots of airspace.

Safety is the other thing we’re working on building acceptance on. Many people have a fear of flying, but that’s illogical if you look at the data. We’re designing our eVTOL with a 10-9 safety standard – that’s 1 in a billion chance that you might have an incident. Compare that to the 1.3-1.5 million deaths per year from car accidents. We’re big on that kind of education and getting that information out there. People actually don’t know: they feel a lot safer in a car as they’re on the ground and they’re the driver. But in fact they’re much less safe by orders of magnitude.

Again, building acceptance around automation. People don’t realise that 93% of all flight hours are already automated. They just happen to have the pilot in the cockpit, so you get that peace of mind. Most people think the pilot is flying the plane but most of the time they’re not. 

It’s about education, and bringing people along for the journey – this is critical to the success of the industry and that’s why we’re putting so much emphasis on this and why we’re doing this education.

Like Airspeeder, your operations span into the Southern Hemisphere, tell us about the progress you have been making in New Zealand? 

We have an operation in New Zealand, we’ve been flying down there for years, as a blueprint for how we open up any State or country. We have been working with the Prime Minister, the regulator, airlines – we work with Air New Zealand – and get into the community through the city councils and the Mayors, bringing folks in on the journey. That journey is sustainability and autonomy. In New Zealand they want to be on the leading edge, setting the standards for autonomy and robotics out in the world. Importantly, with sustainability at the forefront of that thinking. 

Airspeeder is just fantastic: flying car racing will absolutely happen.
Gary Gysin CEO, Wisk

The future is autonomous. Do you think there is still space for those that seek the thrill and agency of driving? How do you think motorsport can drive this?

Absolutely, just like the current aviation market there are going to be a lot of different sectors: personal vehicles will definitely be part of that. Imagine going for a drive on an amazing mountain road in a high horsepower car: you can have a blast. It’ll be the same thing with flying.

There will be personal ownership, then there will be what we’re doing – autonomous – there will be racing and also regional flights. The whole eVTOL industry is moving in this direction. It wants to fly and race and there will be people who want to own their vehicles – that will always exist.

How do you think Airspeeder will play a role in this? 

Airspeeder is just fantastic: flying car racing will absolutely happen. It’s an opportunity to get people excited by eVTOLs. It’s on the edge. Just look at the progression in F1, and its evolution over the years in terms of safety. It’s just incredible what has happened there. But the excitement, the speed, the challenge remains. There is a large racing community out there – whether it be Indy, NASCAR or F1 – Airspeeder will absolutely appeal to that base. I am an F1 junkie so I’m always on the lookout for the next fun thing to watch.

Quickfire Questions

The Airspeeder format takes racing to anywhere in the globe. Where would you stage an electric flying car Grand Prix and why? 

 

Monaco is the prize and the jewel of F1, it’d be a cool place to start. Definitely in Europe: just think of the appeal to the F1 audience! Thinking from a business side, partner up with an F1 event and be a part of that, that’s how I would think about it. But I would probably want to go out in the desert as well. 

 
In 10 years time, how will you get to work in the week and what are you travelling in on a Sunday? 

 

I won’t be driving to work. Certainly, I will be taking an autonomous air taxi in ten years time. But on a Sunday I would want to be in an Airspeeder or on a track. There’s still a need and a desire to drive, but it’ll become a rare and special moment in the future as infrastructure changes.

In your view, what is the single greatest mobility innovation?

 

The automobile is the greatest mobility innovation. You could think about aviation but that huge leap between horse and wagon to a car was so important. 

What do you think the next great mobility innovation will be? 

 

I think we’re going to fly autonomously before we drive autonomously on a mass scale. That might sound crazy but here’s why. The autonomy problem in a car comes from the number of variables you have to deal with. Autonomy in the air is a much easier problem to solve, with relatively few variables. We’re getting there in aviation. I think that is going to be the greatest breakthrough, not on the ground but in the air.

Read our previous interview with:Lunaz MD and Technical Lead, Jon Hilton.

https://wisk.aero/

https://airspeeder.com/

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