IWC has been pushing the limits of horology and micro-engineering since the late 19th century. It's no wonder, then, that the Shaffhausen-based firm would partner with some of the world's leading companies dedicated to pushing the technological and performance-based envelopes.
The latest such company is called Airspeeder, the "world's first electric flying car racing series." Matt Pearson, who developed the series, runs Alauda, the manufacturer of performance flying vehicles that make use of eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) technology. Pearson is looking to make a global sport of of Airspeeder, and by the looks of it, he's well on his way: The single-pilot aircraft he developed can fly at heights of up to 40m off the ground at speeds of 200km/h over electronically created tracks, obviating the need for physical infrastructure and reducing the sport's carbon footprint.
Partnering with Airspeeder was a no-brainer for IWC and its CEO, Christoph Grainger-Herr: "The Airspeeder team are true pioneers of aviation and they are bringing together two things that are really close to IWC’s heart. From making some of the planet’s best pilots’ watches for the last eighty years to the cut and thrust of modern automotive design and racing, we have always equipped and inspired those who dare to dream.We are proud to collaborate on an endeavor that will make such a progressive impact on society," he said.
We spoke with Matt Pearson, the brains behind the Airspeeder project, on his inspiration, how his vision has been coming to life, and why partnering with a Swiss watch brand makes so much sense for his brand.
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you became interested in flying car racing?
Quite simply. Flying cars are inevitable. This is future predicted as far back as the dawn of the automotive age by Henry Ford. What makes them feasible is the developments that have taken place in UAM and advanced air mobility technology. What we then must do is find a credible route to market. Racing has always played that role. It builds acceptance, helps the public fall in love with the technology and of course drives performance and safety. To me it feels a very near-term solution.
In terms of my life, I’ve lived around the world, starting life in South Africa and spending time in Europe before eventually settling in Australia. What this is given me is a restlessness and curiosity — this is perhaps why I’ve been so focused on my work across flying car racing and realizing the potential of nano-satellites through my other venture, Fleet Space technologies.
Airspeeder and our vision to accelerate this great mobility revolution’s arrival through racing is the answer to that restlessness. After enjoying success in my early entrepreneurial career, this provided the time to consider how I might apply an approach. I looked through history for precedent and saw that in mobility, competition has always driven progress. For example, at the dawn of the automobile era you only have to look to the individuals like Karl Benz and C.S Rolls — they were racing drivers who build machines to compete.
This rapidly accelerated their technological development but also built public acceptance and enthusiasm. It stands to reason that what we are doing with Airspeeder can forge giant leaps for the eVTOL industry — a new form of mobility that is already transforming advanced aerial logistics with a clean-air solution. There is no reason why we can’t take that a step further and provide a space and a place for the industry to rapidly develop passenger applications. Quite simply, by going racing, we make flying cars a much more imminent reality.
Can you explain the eVTOL technology that you use and how it was developed?
To get to this landmark moment of showing the world the first ever flights of an electric flying racing car, we have gathered an extraordinary team. I think what is so interesting about what we’re doing is that it demands a truly multi-disciplinary approach from extraordinary technical minds taken from diverse backgrounds.
Our team in Adelaide comprises engineers that have worked on projects as diverse as the Boeing 747 to military jets, hyper-cars and more traditional forms of motorsport. Together they have created a technical package from a blank sheet of paper. What this means is that we have a vehicle that captures hearts and minds through an aesthetic that is redolent of the classic racing cars of the 1950s and 60s, but with a remarkable suite of safety and power delivery technologies that will filter through to mainstream use.
This has been a truly iterative process of development that takes the best of these disciplines in terms of process, collaboration and an obsession with quality, but is enormously amplified by the effect of existing with a competitive environment with such a pure brief to create a machine that delivers raw performance. It’s been gratifying to show the world exactly what we’ve been doing across secret test facilities in the deserts of South Australia, and these first flight films are just the beginning.
How far along is both the eVTOL technology and the racing program itself — have there been trial runs?
Yes, we have developed full-size, full-scale vehicles. They are 4.1m long racing octocopters. Alauda, our sister company, has developed the technology while Airspeeder builds the eco-system and the sport.
We’ve really developed the technology and the creation of an entirely new sport in parallel. (See our recent trailer.) This shows the enormous potential of our first remotely piloted series as a hugely compelling new form of motorsport. You not only see the dynamic potential of the Speeder itself as it makes rapid turns at raw speed but you also get an understanding of how we intend to bring the viewer closer to a pilot or driver’s perspective than ever before. I think this is where technology really serves the series as an entertainment entity. We think constantly about the way that fans will consume the sport and understand the path of the tracks, the performance of the Speeder and of course, the extraordinary skill of our pilots. We are so excited to show the world these first remotely piloted races this year.
This style of racing, in addition to being completely new, seems exceedingly dangerous for myriad reasons. Can you detail some of the challenges in trying to make Airspeeder as safe as possible?
Again, racing has always provided a space and place for new forms of mobility to answer key questions around safety — clearly no motorsport isn’t without danger but the way that we inherently manage risk in every facet of our sport, and our technical approach will provide considerable benefit to the wider eVTOL industry. It will ultimately hasten the arrival of the passenger applications for the technology that premises to transform the way we navigate urban environments.
Firstly, from a spectator point-of-view, our sport does not rely on mass attendance and we fly low to the ground in remote locations. This dramatically reduces public risk and of course, environmental impact as we do not need to build the infrastructure that many other forms of motorsport relies upon. Our Speeders are then engineered by the world’s very best technical minds drawn from industries with a myopic focus on safety. Inherent redundancy is built into every system and structural element of the craft.
We are developing virtual forcefield technologies (we call them close collision avoidance tech) that allow close but ultimately safe racing. This suite of systems utilities the very latest LidAR and RADAR functions to warn a pilot through a haptic impulse before it makes impact with another Speeder. It’s clear how this particular function if our sport can massively befit much wider passenger applications for eVTOL technologies. Furthermore, we have gathered an incredible team with front-line F1 and hypercar development experience — this allows us to develop incredibly robust engineering and process solutions to ensure safety.
What values does your company share with IWC? How did the two companies become connected?
We are blown away to be partnered with such a storied and celebrated brand. I think whenever you’re in the company of true masters of their art like IWC there is limitless scope to learn from the very best in their respective fields. Ultimately IWC and Airspeeder are driven by a shared purpose. Both brands enable the very best people to create exquisitely engineered expressions of their function. There is something very special about being aligned to IWC’s rich heritage surrounding the dawn of the aviation age and their consistent patronage of motor sport.
In fact, in conversation with their CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr, it was fascinating to draw comparisons between these dawning moments for mobility revolutions. What we both see in Airspeeder is a vision to pioneer a new form of mobility technology in the way that our forebears did at the start of the aviation age — it feels very appropriate that despite being generations apart we are bound by an extraordinary heritage of pioneering engineering enabling great feats of progress that push beyond previously accepted limitations. This is such an important knowledge sharing opportunity I feel both brands will benefit from enormously for generations to come.
Do you see Airspeeder becoming a truly international sport, with competing countries fielding their own teams and vehicles?
Airspeeder is a global sport from the ground up. As a truly global team we do not limit our vision in terms of race locations or teams to one location. This is a sport born in the age of global streaming, and we see an amazing opportunity to create something truly universal that will be enjoyed on every continent. Indeed, watch this space for some very exciting announcements. We will be racing in every corner of the planet, in settings where racing has never been seen before. From that perspective we are bringing in international teams who will race with us on every continent. This means our fans will see incredible racing over water, deserts, snow and mountains. Indeed, the sky is our playground and we can race without limitation.
This extends to the foundation of the way that we are organized. I work from our Technical HQ in Adelaide, South Australia. From here we work within an environment that is rapidly becoming a global center of excellence of the development of advanced aerospace and even space travel technologies. The deserts that surround us are the perfect testing grounds for our race-craft and we have been able to draw upon a rapidly growing talent pool as well as able to attract the very best from around the world. In parallel, my colleague Jack Withinshaw, Airspeeder’s CCO, is located in London, England. This really places us at the center of the sports rights world, particularly in motorsport. From there he manages a team spanning the UK and with presence in New York which gives us the coverage to build really meaningful partnerships with sponsors and technical collaborators across Europe, the US, Asia and beyond.