Jorge Alvarez won’t hesitate to tell you traffic is horrible in Mexico City. Research shows the average commuter loses about 26 days annually traveling to and from work while wasting a third of their gasoline budget on nothing but an idling engine.
Alvarez is part of the team at Imago Aerospace in Mexico, which aims to give commuters the means to break gridlock and be truly free in their travels.
The company’s marketing campaign calls their product “Wings for the People” — a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that would take a commuter and cargo from points A to B without getting stuck for hours in point C. Envision a sleeker, greener personal aircraft than the one George Jetson used to avoid traffic in the fictional Orbit City.
But traffic jams are real in Mexico City and other urban areas.
“Commuting in a city can take a lot of time and money,” said Alvarez, Imago’s lead mechanical engineer. “Time is something that all people value. Sure, also the money, but, really more so time. We see a unique opportunity for Imago to improve quality of life. The idea is to democratize travel, to bring to everybody urban air mobility.”
To achieve this goal, the team relies on CAD software.
The Turix V-100 is an unmanned VTOL developed by Imago. (Courtesy Imago Aerospace)
Standing Out in a Competitive Aerospace Industry
Harried commuters have dreamt of getting above it all with a personal aircraft as long as there have been traffic jams, but it’s been no more than a dream until recently. McKinsey and Company expects advanced air mobility operators to have bigger fleets and offer more flights per day than the largest airlines. Those flights will average only 18 minutes and accommodate no more than six passengers and one pilot.
Companies like Imago are racing to make the dream happen. To make a personal VTOL possible, Imago is first focusing on developing and testing two aircraft that will target commercial customers.
One is the Turix V-100, an unmanned VTOL that will combine eight electric motors and an internal combustion engine to carry up to 45 pounds of cargo and cover distances as far as 180 miles. In San Luis Potosí, where Imago is based, it can take at least an hour to cross the city, Alvarez said. “With this kind of aircraft, it will be like 15 minutes or less.”
The other VTOL that Imago is creating, Holom V-10, is fully electric. It can carry about four pounds of cargo, primarily aiming to conduct surveillance, potentially for governments.
Real-Time Collaboration and Validation: Just What Imago Needed
Alvarez working on a design in Onshape. (Courtesy Imago Aerospace)
As the name behind the VTOL acronym implies, such aircraft will ascend straight up and descend straight down to make the most of minimal space in crowded cities. For Alvarez and his team of engineers, that has meant balancing gravity and propulsion with a lightweight aircraft that can be practical and affordable. In the end, their products must go up and down like a helicopter but fly like a plane.
Alvarez’s team uses CAD (computer-aided design) software to create designs of VTOLs as they see how the possibilities of aeronautical parts and the principles of aerodynamics first play out on a computer screen. It’s a critical process, one that Alvarez expects to be collaborative and efficient. The CAD platform they first used was anything but.
“It was cumbersome,” he said. “Since all the product data management (PDM) was a free, open-source solution, sometimes we had problems trying to save the correct version.”
That ended in spring when Imago turned to the Onshape Startup Program. The program provides Imago and other qualifying hardware startups access to Onshape Professional, a fully cloud-native CAD and PDM package with integrated simulation and rendering tools. It gives Alvarez’s team the collaboration they sought. It lets Alvarez assign tasks and team members from around the world to make changes and add comments to designs in a real-time process that doesn’t skip a beat.
Their first project with Onshape was creating designs for Turix, intricate work that involves positioning aeronautical parts and validating their effectiveness. Onshape’s real-time responsiveness meant that if anyone on the team updated the volume of composite parts, for instance, it was updated right away. Knowing that a file’s latest version included all changes, Alvarez and the team didn’t have to always backtrack to confirm if every single design parameter was current.
Onshape’s ease of collaboration was immediately evident when a team member in Belgium had doubts about aircraft measurements. He added comments directly in a file. Alvarez and team were able to help him double-check the dimensions on the spot.
Alvarez also appreciates Onshape’s Managed In-Context Design Tools.
“We use that a lot. If you open an assembly and create the parts and start editing In-Context, that part is linked to the assembly,” he said.
The team’s previous CAD program forced users to hide everything on screen so they could export one specific part. He added, “With Onshape, you just click it, and you can export it really easily. That's something that’s cool.”
The Imago team. (Courtesy Imago Aerospace)
A Time of Excitement and Innovation with Onshape
With Onshape making design more collaborative, intuitive, and just plain easier, Alvarez’s team can approach their work with confidence and an expectation that they won’t be stuck finding workaround solutions to program shortcomings. Their ideas and plans are instead taking off.
“Everything just connects to each other, so it's easier,” Alvarez said.
It’s an exciting time for the company. When employees aren’t designing and building, they’re conducting flight tests. It’s another step toward a day when they can look to the skies and see the products of their labor in full flight.
But they might not stop in Mexico. Last year, Imago caught the eye of the nonprofit innovation network MassChallenge. It was among the top five finalists for the organization’s U.S. Early Stage Community Choice Award.
The award reminded Alvarez that at this early stage, he’s grateful his team can rely on Onshape. “It accelerates our process and allows us to be more proactive and solve problems. All that helps us keep innovating.”