Don’t look down! Flying taxis are becoming serious business
Flying taxis might sound too sci-fi to be serious, but the pedigree of firms investing in the emerging space shows it’s anything but a joke.
From leading automakers such as Toyota, Uber, Hyundai, Airbus, and Boeing, to startups like Kitty Hawk and Lilium, all are vying to be the first to whisk people off their feet and take daily commutes to the skies.
Across the board, the goal is the same: to leapfrog the dreaded rush hour traffic and connect urban centers with suburbs with one another in the shortest amount of time.
The level of involvement these companies have speaks volumes about the faith in the viability of flying taxis as a commercial industry.
In January, Toyota invested US$394 million into Joby Aviation, which is developing a piloted all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVOTL) air taxi, and is targeted to be commercially available by 2023.
Hyundai has also partnered up with Uber in developing an electrically-powered “personal air vehicle” (PAV), which it says can cruise at altitudes up to 2000 feet, and recharge within minutes.
Taking a taxi that can fly above the city has obvious benefits for the consumer ready to pay a premium. For countries that are infamous for nightmarish traffic congestions (China has once seen a 62-mile long traffic jam that lasted for 12 days), flying taxis are a no-brainer.
While the concept of flying taxis has been floated around for quite some time, the market is just now starting to accelerate.
The primary enabler of this is a confluence of technologies, which includes other autonomous vehicles such as drones, efficient batteries, and manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing – all of which are combining to bridge the gap between proof of concept and real-world deployment.
With autonomous vehicles becoming an inevitable feature on our roads in the coming years, and commercial drones already taking to our skies beyond trials, flying taxi represent a logical meeting point.
Optimism in this future mobility market is such that it’s forecast to be worth US$1.5 trillion by 2040. But with growth comes hurdles – there will be turbulence before the industry takes off. Perhaps one of the biggest barriers will be perceptions of safety.
In the scramble to produce air vehicles, Dominic Perry of Flight International, said safety is often chucked in the backseat. Little attention is paid to the “infrastructure, industrialization and resources” required to operate and build these vehicles.
There is also the big question of regulatory red tape. Negotiation with aviation authorities, for one, is a lengthy, painstaking task. Although slow and steady progress is being made in the drone industry – by the likes of UPS, for one – flying taxis which are pilotless and carry human lives, will be a different ball game.
As tech companies lock horns with aerospace firms, the emerging flying taxi arena could be one of the most exciting races we see in the coming years – although, you may be be waiting a long time before you can order an Uber to your rooftop