As I watched Snapchat stories, Instagram posts and my Facebook feed become inundated with posts from friends’ voyages to Clemson this passed weekend, very little of me felt envy, it was more relief. From my standpoint, and it is limited as I was relying solely on social media, it seemed the consensus was girls fly, boys drive. The only problem with that is my fear of flying is greater than any snake, insect, bear or wild boar could ever impose on me, and therefore I had no problem saying I could not make the trip. Besides, I have midterms to take and blog posts to write.
As a disclaimer, I have zero reason to be scared of flying, I have never experienced a moment in a plane where my safety was actually at risk nor have I survived some miraculous mechanical malfunction 35,000 feet in the air. I am not sure where this fear began and I’m not quite sure where and if it will end, but that’s a story for a later post. Back to objective of this writing, my flight anxiety was put on hold as I (thankfully) reluctantly declined the invitation to fly down to Clemson. However, my paranoia spiked RIGHT back up as I perused the BBC to discover that Dubai is testing drone taxi’s, my personal worst nightmare. I mean, I was just becoming comfortable with the idea of jumping into a strangers car and having them drive me to my location.
Regardless of my fear, Volocopter, the German company who designed the drone, “hopes to have the taxis up and running within five years” (Wakefield). The company has plans for consumers to control the drone using an app on a smartphone where one would order the Volocopter to the nearest Voloport (I’m currently shaking), and buckle up for their taxi ride. It turns out this system was tested in April in Germany and Volocopter is not the only company attempting to do this. Chinese competitor, eHang had plans to be the first to launch a fleet of flying drone taxis but the plans have since been put on hold.
With this new technology and innovation, I decided to look into the mechanics of a taxi drone to better understand the reliability of these revolutionary machines. These Volocopters seat two passengers, are 6.5 feet tall, with a 22-foot-wide circle on top of the copter that has 18 rotors. The aesthetically pleasing, shiny white gadget takes two hours to fully charge and can fly for roughly 30 minutes at a cruising speed of 30 miles per hour. The maximum speed is said to be about 60 mph. Now for the safety aspects, (obviously my favorite part), these contraptions entail redundant battery systems, propellers, motors and flight controls. Additionally, the copter has emergency parachutes.
The parent company, Volocopter is aiming to have the first licensed machine on the market in 2018. A price has yet to be announced.
(Pictured: Volocopter (Wakefield)).
Although this sounds like euphoria for those who live in or near highly congested traffic routes, such as Boston, LA, NYC, the list could go on, there are still several regulatory issues and technological points that need to be addressed. Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) stated that there will be several regulatory structures, safety standards, designated routes, as well as takeoff and landing points must all be determined, approved and tested before the drone taxi is made entirely commercial. The idea is to create an Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT) system that includes all of these necessities prior to a drone taxi becoming a normal commuter rail.
(Pictured: Two seats inside Volocopter (Wakefield)).
While Chinese rival, eHance, may be put on hold, other companies are catching on to the autonomous air taxi and have already begun investing and experimenting with their own invention of the drone taxi. Airbus is actively advertising their drone taxi, called Vahana, which you can read directly about from their website here. Their objective is to make travel for humans safer and more efficient. Interestingly, they predict that their technology “will allow [them] to achieve higher safety levels by minimizing human error while allowing more vehicles to share the sky” (A³). Their objective is to also use this machine to transport cargo, drop off deliveries, and serve as an ambulance, mobile hospital as well as a search and rescue mechanism. Airbus has their sights on testing the single-seating Vahana in Oregon, USA this year.
(Pictured: Vahana (A³)).
For the least surprising news, Uber is also partnering with companies to create it’s version of the drone taxi, which it hopes to have testing initiated in 2020. Further investments come from Google’s parent company, Alphabet who invested $100 million+ in a motorcycle-type flyer constructed by Kitty Hawk. The company has expressed that as long as the flyer is operated in public air that is not congested, a pilot license is not necessary. They released their first prototype in April 2017 and say the official Flyer will be available by the end of 2017.
(Pictured: Kitty Hawk’s Flyer, Alphabet’s investment.)
While these inventions are exciting, and will revolutionize the way humans navigate their everyday lives, making daily life more accessible and efficient, it jeopardizes the fate of autonomous vehicles, the car sales business in general, as well as the job market. With drone taxis, drivers will be almost obsolete and people will not feel the need to buy and maintain their own car as they will purchase or use their own autonomous flying taxi. Perhaps it is a wise decision for transportation moguls such as Airbus and Uber to initiate the move into the self-piloting, air born contraptions. For someone who has a massive fear of flying, the more research and information I absorb, the drone taxi seems like it might be more viable concept than floating 35,000 feet in the air in a massive tube.
“A³ By Airbus Group.” A³, A³ By Airbus, 2017.
Wakefield, Jane. “Dubai Tests Drone Taxi Service.” BBC News, BBC, 26 Sept. 2017.