Future Transportation: 5 Air Taxis to Watch
Most people are aware of the recent advancements in terrestrial autonomous driving, but the development of autonomous flying taxis receives much less attention-despite having just as much potential to revolutionize how people get around. After decades of unfulfilled promises, we may have become jaded to the idea of flying cars, but the technology is closer than ever before. It's not just one guy with a shed and a dream who is building the newest prototypes, but some of the biggest companies, some of which have set some very clear timetables.
If your Tesla's Autopilot is already getting stale, check out these five autonomous air taxis that could forever change how we travel.
The aviation world is fascinated by urban air taxis these days—small, autonomous, electric vehicles that can take off and land vertically. Developers hope these new aircraft will rescue urban travelers from gridlock and delays. However, Bell Helicopter, a Texas company that has built helicopters since the 1930s, says air taxis are nothing new, since helicopters have filled that niche for decades. Powered by noisy, fossil-fuel-burning engines, helicopters can best be considered the first generation of air taxis.
Bell's cabin mockup features luxe ergonomic leather seating for four—all passengers, no onboard pilot required—along with a full suite of state-of-the-art technologies to speed up the journey. Big windows offer travelers a panoramic view of the passing scene. Wi-Fi, wireless charging, and video calling keep travelers entertained and productive.
In CES, Bell CEO Mitch Snyder said, “Air taxis in urban areas are nearer than many people realize.” Last year, Bell partnered with Uber’s Elevate project, directed by NASA veteran Mark Moore, which aims to bring urban air taxis to life. "We believe in the positive impact our design will have on addressing transportation concerns in cities worldwide."
Earlier this week, Dubai's transportation experts partnered with Volocopter to provide the aircraft to give its citizens the first safe, autonomous air-taxi system in the world. The Volocopter company, formerly known as e-volo, is working on developing a safe, redundant, easy-to-fly, vertically taking off and landing personal aircraft. After six years in development, the company recently unveiled version two of the aircraft. Due to current regulations, the two-seat Volocopter 2X requires a human pilot to operate it using very simple and intuitive controls. However, the technology can easily be adapted to enable remote-controlled and autonomous flight.
Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority said autonomous vehicles will handle 25 percent of all passenger travel in the city by 2030. This will be the first time in the world that they will use Volocopter's technology. The tests will begin by the end of the year. While the government develops a regulatory framework for the air-taxi system, Volocopter works on refining its aircraft during the testing phase, which is expected to take five years. Both European and American aviation authorities plan to approve a four-seat version of the aircraft that Volocopter is developing.
The Dubai experiment, says Alexander Zosel, co-founder of Volocopter, is just the beginning. “We see Dubai as the pioneer for a huge evolving market,” he said. If the project is successful, it will serve as a showcase for the rest of the world to follow.
Earlier this week, Dubai's transportation experts partnered with Volocopter to provide the aircraft to give its citizens the first safe, autonomous air-taxi system in the world. The Volocopter company, formerly known as e-volo, is working on developing a safe, redundant, easy-to-fly, vertically taking off and landing personal aircraft. After six years in development, the company recently unveiled version two of the aircraft. Volocopter 2X is an electric two-seater designed to be flown by a human pilot, using very simple and intuitive controls, because that's all that current regulations allow. It is possible to adapt the technology to enable remote-control or even autonomous flight.
According to the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, autonomous transportation will handle 25 percent of the city's passenger traffic by 2030. It will be the world's first test run of Volocopter's technology by the end of this year. During the testing phase, Volocopter will refine the aircraft while the government works on developing a regulatory framework for the air-taxi system. In addition to the four-seat version, Volocopter plans to get it approved by European and American aviation authorities.
The Dubai experiment, according to Volocopter co-founder Alexander Zosel, is only the beginning. According to him, Dubai is the pioneer of a huge market that is still in its infancy. If the project is successful, it will serve as a showcase for the rest of the world to follow.
Often, flying cars are dismissed as part of a fantasy future that will never happen—but Airbus is not a startup, it is a major global aviation company, and its engineers are working on an autonomous air taxi that will fly by the end of next year, according to the company.
An electric-powered, four-passenger, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft with eight propellers is under development at the Airbus Helicopters division in London. There have already been successful preliminary tests of the propulsion system. It is expected that further tests of the fully integrated drivetrain, which features eight Siemens SP200D all-electric motors, will be conducted in the near future.
With a top speed of 75 mph, CityAirbus won't be too fast, but it'll be much faster than traffic-squeezed ground vehicles. Short hops between the crowded inner city and nearby airports and train stations are possible with the aircraft. Initially, a pilot will be on board, but Airbus says that's not necessary. The CityAirbus will be ready to take off as soon as the public and regulators accept an autonomous air taxi.
The Silicon Valley division of Airbus, A3 ("A-cubed"), is also working on another flying car project, the Vahana. It's expected to fly before the end of the year, according to local news reports.
Also, the company has been working on a concept called Pop.Up, which can quickly change from wheels to helicopter mode, and experimenting with a helicopter-sharing service called Voom, which serves the same city center-to-airport niche as the flying taxis.
According to Uber's leaders, flying taxis could solve our urban transportation problems in the future.
The company has committed to work on two demonstration projects by 2020, one in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and another in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Through partnerships with local real estate companies, both projects will create rooftop landing pads that can provide air-taxi service to nearby locations. There will be two to four seats in the small aircraft, plus a pilot at first. As part of Uber's vision, the company will eventually provide fully autonomous aircraft that can be controlled remotely by a remote operator if necessary.
In order to bring Moore's vision to life, the aircraft must be quiet, to avoid annoying neighbors in densely populated cities; safe, reliable, and efficient; and ideally, battery-powered, so they are emissions-free. At least 60 miles must be able to be flown nonstop, at a speed of 150 mph. Can the vision be achieved? We'll have to wait and see what happens in 2020.
Kitty Hawk Cora
It's worth paying attention when Google cofounder Larry Page puts his money behind a flying taxi concept (rumored to be $100 million). When a project like the recently unveiled Cora comes from a company named Kitty Hawk, the site of the Wright brothers' first flight, you know it will be ambitious.
Despite being in development for eight years, the all-electric, emissions-free flying vehicle was only unveiled last month. Featuring twelve vertically oriented rotors on both wings, Cora can take off and land vertically, giving it more versatility than a typical plane. Forward thrust is provided by a large propeller located behind the cockpit.
Some outlets are reporting that Cora is already working on a ridesharing app that will allow those without pilot's licenses to use the air taxi. New Zealand is already testing the Cora, which sounds like something from a sci-fi movie.