Can Flying Become A Long-term Alternative To Road Transportation?
Modern transportation causes major problems for society. Today’s largest cities suffer from high congestion levels and emissions. Many commuters face slower speeds and longer traveling times while the sky isn’t being utilized. This pollutes the atmosphere throughout the city and contributes to the rise of CO2 levels. Additionally, it also plays a part in the increase of cardiovascular diseases.
However, what once seemed like a science fiction movie, slowly turns into reality. Many companies are toiling away to tackle the problems of modern transportation and are developing vehicles that could potentially leverage the 3rd dimension.
Flight Is About to Get a Lot More Personal
Although travelling and shipping products by road offers larger flexibility, it also has its drawbacks. Road transportation is subject to traffic delays and source of both greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Autonomous vehicles and flying drones might help to tackle these challenges not only in the delivery industry but also in personal transportation.
What we need is an aircraft small enough to take off and land in narrow spaces. Plus a vehicle that’s easy to pilot, doesn’t run on fossil fuels and isn’t too loud. Electric autonomous aircrafts have it all.
Who Is Currently Working On Air Taxis?
Air taxis, as small commercial aircrafts, are designed to fly short distances on demand to relieve the city’s traffic. There are currently about 20 companies, including Uber, working on this dream to become reality.
Uber is already cooperating with Embraer and Pipistrel Aircraft and revealed its partnership with California-based Karem at Uber Elevate—the second “flying taxi” conference. The ride-sharing company partnered additionally with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences and Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters) to develop an aircraft for the air taxi project.
However, China and Europe are not falling behind with their innovations. The Chinese drone company Ehang already performed a series of manned tests on their passenger drone Ehang 184. It is able to fly almost 130 km/h in various weather conditions.
This electronic quadcopter sits one passenger and has a range of 10 miles in 23 minutes. It includes obstacle avoidance sensors, autonomous guiding system and takes off and lands vertically. Plus, there is a remote pilot that takes over if something goes wrong.
Hottest Air Taxi Companies in Germany
We spoke with two ambitious German air taxi companies that aim to fundamentally change the way we get around cities. Lilium and Volocopter are both developing an all-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircrafts.
Volocopter, a company based in Bruchsal, Germany, is backed by Daimler and recently presented its partnership with Intel at CEBIT 2018. Volocopter 2X is a vertical take-off and landing multicopter powered by 9 high capacity batteries, making it completely emission-free. It is designed to be flown remotely, autonomously or as a manned drone. The 2-seat aircraft goes 27 km on a single charge at an optimal cruise speed of 70 km/h.
Based in Munich, Lilium started to develop their electric vertical take-off and landing jet already in 2013. The vehicle is said to be five times faster than a car while being 100% emission-free. By the simple press of a button, the jet will pick up up to five passengers from a landing pad and take them to their desired location. Lilium takes-off and lands vertically like a helicopter. But once in the air, it accelerates into forwarding flight, achieving much higher speeds.
Up in The Air: When Will Air Taxis Be Commercialized?
The obstacles standing in the way of mass commercialization of autonomous air taxis are mainly safety, regulation, and public acceptance. When it comes to safety, we naturally just have to wait for the technology to advance.
Regarding regulation, a wider regulatory vision is still far from clear which might seriously delay the arrival of commercial drones. However, Deutsche Bahn is already planning to build a train station with included air taxi parking. Nevertheless, it’s also not yet clear if the general public will accept having flying vehicles above their heads.
Just as the development of airplanes helped us connect with the vast world, hopefully, air taxis will reconnect us with each other on a local level. Although there are still many question marks up in the air, we hope that flying taxis will soon fill up the skies.