Conference report: Revolution.Aero San Francisco 2023 – Ascent update (on the hill)


If you were in San Francisco this month for Revolution.Aero it is likely you saw a few cars driving around with a curious array of cameras on the roof. If you looked at little closer you didn’t see a driver.

These autonomous, driverless cars, licensed for operation in August this year, are at the technological forefront of how we move on the ground (see the smartphone-wielding pedestrians filming them at every stop sign).

Whilst these ‘robotaxis’, operated in San Francisco by Waymo and Cruise, moved passengers around the city, a record-breaking Revolution.Aero show stopped by in the city to discuss how mobility is transforming in the air. Here we pick out a few highlights from the two days of action on 6 and 7 September.

As always investment was a key focus, addressing areas such as choosing the right strategic, the path to commercial entry and financing production. We also caught up with the foremost eVTOL and air taxi players as some gear up for entry into service in the next two years and others wait to see what second-mover advantages will be born out. Including firesides with Joby, Wisk, Archer, Eve, Airbus, Supernal and BETA Technologies.

Operations and what shape they will take across the various sectors that make up the fourth aviation revolution was also high on the agenda. With perspectives from leaders such as Bristow, NASA and FAA. As one of the largest global VTOL operators, Bristow has announced deals with eVTOL firms including Volocopter (this was announced mid-event), Elroy Air and BETA Technologies. Its AAM programme manager, Bryan Willows recently flew BETA’s Alia-250 aircraft on its eighth qualitative evaluation flight. BETA’s sales director, Skye Carapetyan also featured on the day one agenda.

Like the driverless cars ferrying passengers round the city by the bay, autonomy was another point of discussion on the agenda. Wisk, arguably the world leader in autonomous flight technology and fresh off a number of ‘world first’ autonomous demonstrations, addressed a number of points including: Is autonomous certification closer than we think? Where to test and certificate? There was also a panel session featuring leaders in the fixed wing autonomy space: XWing, Reliable Robotics, Merlin Labs and Daedelean AI.

Revolution.Aero is a home for cutting-edge aerospace startups and despite the absence of the Pitch competition this year, the event saw the launch of a new aircraft. Jump Aero unveiled its fast-response eVTOL air ambulance to wide acclaim.

Recent updates to regulations and newly-issued approvals have been changing the face of the large drone industry in the US. Focused largely on the infrastructure inspection and delivery sectors, in the last the FAA has given initial approvals to Phoenix Air Unmanned, UPS Flight Forward, uAvionix and Zipline. Our session In the game of drones addressed: Close vs short vs middle vs long range and cargo vs survey operations: Which has the biggest potential? With contributions from SwissDrones investor DiamondStream Partners, Elroy Air, Dronamics and Wingtra.

In the US particularly, military investment and guidance plays a large role in aerospace innovation. Revolution.Aero hosted the US Air Force’s AFWERX, head of Airspace Innovations & Prime Partnerships, Darshan ‘Dash ’Divarkaran to discuss the military’s role in progressing AAM. AFWERX was created in 2017 to be the innovation arm of the USAF, it has now invested around $2bn in aerospace startups.

There was also a dose of realism for all those betting on returns sometime soon from their investments in the eVTOL sector. That came in the form of Adam Grosser, chairman and managing partner at UP.Partners. Grosser looked at two areas: What can aviation learn from terrestrial transport and is venture capital still the backbone of mobility? When asked whether he thought an investor will see good returns on any air taxi investment made in the past 10 years, his answer was not likely. On the flip side was Francois Chopard, founder & CEO, Starburst Aerospace, who has invested in more than 150 aerospace startups. He founded Starburst in 2012 as the first global accelerator designed to take aerospace startups from idea to growth.

In case you missed this year’s biggest ever event or would like to revisit any of the content you can catch up with all the sessions online. We look forward to welcoming you to Revolution.Aero Dublin 2024 in the Spring and keeping you updated will all future flight developments in the meantime.