Drones have become increasingly popular of late, particularly among hobbyists, photographers and cinematographers. They started appearing in the commercial market only in the last 20 years, even though the military has been utilizing UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) since WWII.
More recently though, the development of drones for use in the delivery of goods has been explored. Companies such as Amazon are looking for ways to enable a fleet of drones to deliver products directly without involving a human delivery person.
And the technology keeps growing.
With the idea of transporting commercial goods, came the thought that drones could be used to transport people as well. In recent years, the number of people using planes as a means of transportation has risen dramatically, creating a considerably larger carbon footprint than in the past.
In 2016 the first drone capable of carrying people, the Ehang 184, was unveiled in China at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) that year. In June of this year, a British aerospace company tested their idea, dubbed the eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) vehicle.
This company, Vertical Aerospace, aims at providing trip distances somewhere in the 60-90 mile range. This eVTOL, which takes off vertically, is powered by four large rotors and can reach speeds up to 50 mph. Plans are to carry 2-4 passengers from city to city or directly from their door to their desired destination by 2022.
The company’s founders wanted to provide a more efficient means of transportation which mirrors the way we travel now, by taxi and air bus, only much advanced. By offering an electric passenger vehicle for this purpose they have opened the door on the very near future.
Vertical Aerospace is dedicated to decarbonizing air travel and making medium distance travel possible at a lower cost to the transportation company, environment and ultimately the customer.
The mission is virtuous to be sure, but the industry has a long way to go. With their first test run out of the way, Vertical Aerospace is certainly on the leading edge, but there are still obstacles to overcome and the future is a bit uncertain.
The potential is visible in clips from their first test flight, which made them the first company in the UK to test a flying taxi prototype. While they may be the first currently, with technology advancing at it’s ongoing rate, there will certainly be other companies filling the market soon. In fact, Uber is also on track to employ air taxis in the future too.
Uber unveiled their prototype for the same category of vehicle, VTOL, in May of this year and they have plans to begin test flights in 2020. Uber’s prototype has room for a pilot and four passengers and will reach speeds of 150-200 mph up to 60 miles.
Even with the technological hurdles yet to be overcome, it seems almost certain that in the days ahead we will see this service come to life. The only question we’re left wondering is not if there will be flying taxis, but rather, who will be the first to actually offer the first flying taxi for everyday use?