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Interview with

Raoul Rothfeld, M.Sc.

Operations

INNOVATIVE TRANSPORT CONCEPTS, SUCH AS URBAN AIR MOBILITY, REQUIRE HOLISTIC CONSIDERATION.
Raoul Rothfeld, M.Sc.

Raoul Rothfeld has been employed at Bauhaus Luftfahrt since December 2015. The 27-year-old software developer and data scientist is a member of the research focus area “Operations” as well as an expert in the field of modelling future urban air transport concepts.

What is your current research focus, Mr. Rothfeld?

The concept of urban air mobility, i.e. the use of vertical take-off and landing aircraft for passenger transport in urban areas, is a topic that is increasingly gaining interest. Although the concept is not fundamentally new – after all, helicopter-based taxi services do exist in a few major cities – new vehicle projects give hope for further applications, in which helicopters are not yet used today. These new vehicles are usually based on technological advances in the areas of distributed and electric propulsion as well as on improved energy densities of batteries. Compared to the helicopter, these developments promise to result in quieter, safer, and cheaper aircraft. Now my task is to understand, simulate, and evaluate this type of mobility. I would particularly like to investigate under which conditions the concept of urban air mobility can help to relieve today’s traffic-stricken cities.

What is the relevance of your work for the future of aviation?

My research should help to concretise the currently expanding design space for small, vertical take-off and landing, electrically powered aircraft and thus contribute to the development of quieter, more environmentally friendly aircraft. With this development of small electric aeroplanes for urban missions, we see a clash of the previously traditional fields of aviation and ground transport research. The combined modelling of urban aerial transport with existing urban transport systems and their interplay should provide new understanding of both topics.

Which methods and tools are you using?

For traffic modelling, I use MATSim, a Java-based open-source framework for agent-based traffic simulations. With a self-developed extension for the existing traffic simulation, the ability to provide the agent, i.e. the simulated inhabitant of a city, with air mobility as a travel option was introduced. In addition, I use GIS programmes, i.e. software for processing and analysing spatial data, to understand the differences of urban transport systems from all over the world with their regional characteristics.

What are the results of your work?

It is still too early to assess how a potential implementation of urban air mobility would affect a city’s overall transport system; too many questions remain unanswered, and topics relating to urban air mobility remain unexplored. However, initial findings confirm that new transport concepts can no longer be considered separately. They must always be analysed in combination with existing systems and their infrastructure. It is becoming apparent that, in addition to cruise speeds of these new aircraft, the access and process times of urban flight infrastructure are of particular importance.

In what way does Bauhaus Luftfahrt provide the best environment for your research?

With its future-oriented and interdisciplinary approach, Bauhaus Luftfahrt offers me the opportunity to work on new and unconventional topics together with colleagues from other disciplines as well as industry partners. With a concept such as urban air mobility, in which questions of technological feasibility, infrastructural integration, or regulatory handling still require intensive research, it is essential to be able to look at research challenges from different perspectives.