L8r Taxi, Welcome Drone

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 7.39.00 PM.png

(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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 7.38.34 PM.png

(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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 7.27.16 PM.png

(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 By Airbus, 2017.

Wakefield, Jane. “Dubai Tests Drone Taxi Service.” BBC News, BBC, 26 Sept. 2017.

 

 

8 comments

  1. Very interesting post – I didn’t think that companies were planning to roll out autonomous flying vehicles so near in the future. Personally, I am less skeptical about the safety issues (I’m sure a lot of research and development have gone into ensuring these machines are safe to fly), and more about the infrastructure that would need to be set in place for these taxi drones to fully go online. As you mentioned, transportation routes and takeoff/landing locations must be designated for consumers to switch over to drones as the new transportation medium, and it seems this would be a significant obstacle. I think this is largely the reason why Tesla sales have not yet seen its full potential, especially in developing countries and regions. Few people doubt the fuel efficiency or safety of the vehicles, but there simply is a lack of charging stations, making Teslas less pragmatic and less appealing. Similarly, I would be very surprised if these taxi drone companies are really able to establish the necessary infrastructure in time, and have a successful roll-out in the next couple years.

  2. Even as someone who has no fear of flying, this is terrifying. I would be very hesitant to get on board one of these. However, I agree that this will completely revolutionize how people travel. I can just imagine thousands of people sitting in traffic at the bridge on their way to Cape Cod watching drone taxi after drone taxi fly over head transporting people hours faster and infinitely more conveniently. The part that scares me is that these companies plan on them being self-driving. We’re only slightly breaking into the autonomous car industry, which makes me think that these will take more than a few years to gain traction. And there is no doubt that there will be pushback. I am excited to see Uber’s model coming out in the next few months and will be interested to see where this idea goes!

  3. This is the first I am hearing of this and I think its so cool! Despite obvious concerns, I think the use of drones for transportation will be extremely beneficial. I think it is particularly interesting that Airbus wants to go further and use these drones to transport cargo, drop off deliveries, and serve as an ambulance, etc. I tweeted an article earlier this week about how Rwanda is using drone technology to transport blood, platelets, and plasma to hospitals throughout the country and vastly improving healthcare. Drones are such powerful tools and I am excited to see how they will continue to be used in the future!

  4. Great post! This is my first time reading about drone taxis and I think it would definitely serve a great purpose in a congested city. However, I feel like a lot of real estate would have to go to landing pads most likely on tall buildings so that the drones could safely land. The increase in high rise buildings may have an environmental impact like reduced sunlight in certain areas and increased humidity among others. Nevertheless, I’m excited to learn more about the technology and the direction Volocopter will take!

  5. Well, this is terrifying! I don’t have a fear of flying like yourself, but the idea of drone taxis flying all around causes an uneasy feeling for me. It will be really interesting to see how this technology is adopted, both by people who want to operate the drones and also the people that feel comfortable having others operate them. Flying cars have always been part of the human idea of “the future” and its awesome to see a possible implementation of that which doesn’t involve a long runway like some flying cars do today. Regulatory issues in the US will certainly delay implementation here for a long time, but other countries may be more interested in pursuing the technology. Great post!

  6. Nice post. Actually, if they can get it right, I think I’d be much more comfortable flying in a drone than in a self-driving car. Less things to hit 30 feet off the ground.

  7. Had to give this a read after our discussion in class. This is a pretty revolutionary topic and it’ll be interesting to see how regulation on this plays out. It has the potential of really upping the quality of life for those who live in high traffic cities, but presents challenges in terms of where they will land and how they will coordinate with other flying taxis.

  8. Really interesting article. I think that what people are looking for more these days are convinience, since we live in a world where time seems to be less each time. As a result, Taxi Drones have hit the market. I do believe that these are going to be a hit in the market. Especially in developing markets where it is so hard and so unsafe to drive I do believe that this makes sense. Also in places such as SouthEast Asia that have many remote areas and island I do believe this could be an excellent way of transportation.

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