Flying taxis could soon take the leap from science fiction to everyday reality, with a number of drone-taxis currently being tested.

The long-standing dream of a taxi that can take off and fly over traffic jams is set to become a reality by some time between 2020-2030, with tests already under way at a number of companies, most notably aeronautics giants Airbus and Boeing. Airbus CEO Tom Enders already stated in December last year that "in the not too distant future, we will be using our smartphones to book flying taxis that are fully automated, and which will land by our front door, with no need for a pilot".

Since then, German firm Volocopter carried out successful tests in Dubai in September 2017. Its Volocopter 2X has 18 rotors and lithium-ion batteries, giving it a range of 27 kilometres. It can transport two passengers at speeds of up to 100 km/h.

Various prototypes of taxi-drones

A number of start-ups are working on e-VTOL (electric and hybrid-electric powered Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircrafts"), including one called Lilium, which has developed a mini-jet capable of speeds of up to 300 km/h over a distance of 300 kilometres, which is also the case of the S2 developed by US company Joby Aviation. In China meanwhile, Ehang has announced that its Ehang 184 drone-taxi will be tested shortly, with Zee Aero – a company founded by Larry Page – likely to follow suit, and Elon Musk also apparently interested in this particular market.

Of the big names in the aeronautics sector, Boeing – which acquired Aurora Flight Sciences in early November – has a number of innovative air transport projects up its sleeve, and Airbus is also on the case. "We think that global demand could be enough for there to be fleets of millions of vehicles around the world," said Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A3 – Airbus’ centre for technological innovation. "In less than 10 years, we could have products on the market that revolutionise urban travel for millions of people". The CityAirbus – a flying taxi for four people – is slated for testing by the end of 2018, followed by the one-seater Vahana and also Pop.UP, a half-car, half-helicopter which evolves based on the levels of traffic.

Flying taxis at affordable prices

Jörg Müller, from Airbus’ development department, talks of "competitive prices" in a study on the mobility of the future: "The market will develop quickly as soon as the first vehicles are up in the skies around big cities and demonstrating the advantages of silent, emissions-free air transport". Other possible factors behind cost reduction will be the use of composite materials and electric propulsion systems, the possibility of 100% driverless craft, and above all a vehicle-sharing-based economic model.

According to Airbus’ forecasts, the price of a journey in a CityAirbus shared by several passengers would be the equivalent of a taxi ride at today’s rates. Uber is obviously therefore keen to get into this particular market, and is promising UberAir, with first tests set for 2020, commercial flights slated for 2023 and flying Ubers operational by the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.
Once all the issues surrounding security and legislation have been addressed –primarily on how such craft can be integrated into urban air space – we should soon see flying taxis appearing in the skies around big cities.

 

 

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