Plugging into Flight
LaunchPoint EPS develops electric flight systems in Goleta
By Jorge Mercado, Staff Writer
ERIC ISAACS PHOTO – LaunchPoint Electric Propulsion Solutions CEO Robert Reali at the company’s Goleta headquarters. LaunchPoint EPS develops electric engine systems for drones and is working toward electric engines that could propel flying passenger vehicles.
GOLETA, California 11/10/2020 – LaunchPoint Electric Propulsion Solutions is technically a startup, but the company was formed by a group of scientists in Goleta who have been making a difference in the area and the world for the past 30 years.
Those efforts, by the team from now-defunct LaunchPoint Technologies, include helping to invent Inogen’s portable oxygen device and making advances in green-power energy storage. The new project, led by LaunchPoint EPS CEO Robert Reali, is focused on electric motors—the kind that could revolutionize air shipping and travel.
Before joining LaunchPoint, Reali was the chief operations officer of Santa Barbara-based TrueVision, a company that started with four employees and eventually grew to become a major eye-surgery device firm that was acquired by Alcon in 2019.
“It’s one of the most satisfying things for me personally,” he said, referring to his experience with TrueVision. “I’m a perfect fit to work with brilliant scientists and guide them to turning it into a product into a profitable enterprise.”
LaunchPoint’s focus is on electric motors and controllers for urban air mobility, such as flying cars, and hybrid electric flight with unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
Major breakthroughs in electric flight technology would revolutionize travel, making it possible to move things—and even people—much quicker and with a much smaller environmental footprint.
“I believe all the pieces of this puzzle are on the table now. We do have all the technology that is necessary to make it work,” Paulo Iscold, an aerospace engineering professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, told the Business Times over email. “Maybe the puzzle has too many pieces now, too complex and complicated, and that is the reason that is being difficult to make it happen. Maybe some disruptive technology will come in the future and will make the puzzle simpler, but we have all we need now.”
As a result, some big companies have already started investing in the flying cars market, which is still a decade or two away from producing any products.
“Hyundai has a $1.5 billion investment in air mobility, Uber has announced air taxis, Amazon wants to deliver packages using drones and air mobility is a legislated market that the government is starting to enable,” Reali said.
Where LaunchPoint fits in this market is providing those big players with the electric motors for such vehicles or drones.
“We’ve got a very novel lightweight, power-dense, electric motor that’s super efficient, and that’s our advantage over all the competition,” Reali said. “Every company building these cars. We want to be their suppliers … and there’s a huge demand to be filled so we are accelerating our growth because we have very mature products that are ready to go to market.”
Flying cars are still years away, with most needing very powerful electric motors upwards of 100 kilowatts. Currently, LaunchPoint offers a six kilowatt electric motor and a 40 kilowatt motor.
“That’s where we are now, and we want to engage in the flying car industry and work with those companies to make those 100, 250 kilowatt motors and advance to that,” Reali said.
While that is their extended focus, LaunchPoint currently has five major customers for whom it has developed propulsion systems, a system for getting one object from one place to another. This includes selling drone motors and controllers and hybrid systems to different U.S. military agencies.
“Our business plan is really two-fold: Selling the products now, growing into those larger programs of record with the U.S. Army, the Marine Corps, etc., and getting onboarded to be a key team member for the large urban air mobility developers.” said Chris Grieco, LaunchPoint EPS’ vice president for global business development and sales.
Reali said the company had obtained $2 million in contracts and revenue for 2020. “We look to triple that next year, based on some of these mature prototypes turning into orders,” he said.
The company is in the process of closing its first round of seed money, Reali said, and has grown from 12 employees to 20 in six months.
The company hopes to add more engineers, which is a big reason why the team wants to stay in Goleta.
“I’ll give you two reasons why we stayed: UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,” Reali said. “There’s just something about this area that promotes open thinking, engineering interest, and inventing interesting things.”
For now, LaunchPoint is set up to be a big player in the urban air mobility market, whenever that day comes.
“Air mobility is a new step in the aero-space industry that can represent a new paradigm to be explored,” Iscold said. “If we succeed to put this puzzle together, and if the market demand really happens, the volume of the business that this will generate might be huge.”