According to some experts who gathered earlier this week in Texas for the South by Southwest Festival, flying taxis may indeed become a reality soon and they are expected to be available by 2025.
Michael Thacker, Executive Vice President for Technology and Innovation at Bell joined Uber and some aeronautical firms, one of which is the French company Safran, to produce a number of flying taxis that take off and land in a vertical position.
“People have been dreaming about it for decades on paper, and now the technology is here. The only question is: what are we going to do with it?” said Thacker.
Earlier this year, The Nexus- a hybrid electric propulsion aircraft- was showcased for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Around 20 to 30 other firms are working on something similar, Airbus being amongst those companies which recently unveiled their electric aircraft CityAirbus.
Uber has plans to launch their flying taxis I Los Angeles, California and Dallas, Texas which are two heavily traffic congested cities.
“It’s not going to replace ground transport, it will augment it in another dimension. And it’s not going to jump overnight with thousands of aircrafts. There will rather be a few dozens of them in afew cities.. at first using helipads and helicopter routes,” said Thacker.
Executives at Bell said that drones transporting goods are expected to take to the skies a lot sooner than taxis do as they have relatively less restrictions.
He said, “Transport of goods don’t have so many requirements in terms of safety and acceptability by people.”
Associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA, Jaiwon Shib, said that although 2025 seems like a reasonable time to launch the flying vehicles, it will take some time for the market to take off.
“For this market to really flourish… I think we really need to mature the market at scale and that may take a decade,” said Shib.
Many experts have raised concerns about the barriers involved in flying vehicles.
Shivika Sahdev from McKinsey said that it is important to at first determine “if you can actually test the vehicle in an urban space without having visual line of sight over people with buildings.”
Another technological issue that needs to be taken into account is the battery life of these air taxis. Several of the prototypes use electric propulsion and batteries which currently don’t have enough power to fly long distances.
In the “Vision 2050” report which was also presented at the South by Southwest Festival, it stated that the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) predicts that by 2050, there will be widespread use of air taxis and autonomous drones.
“For me, artificial intelligence is easier in the air. There’s a lot of space up there and so we have a lot of room, we have a third dimension to maneuver in. It’s not the Wild Wild West up there. I think the rules of the sky are more defined than the rules of the road,” said Scott Drennan, director of innovation at Bell.
According to vice president of Drone Group at Intel, Anil Nanduri, an advantage to air taxis is their GPS system. He said, “GPS precision today is a couple of meters plus minus. For ground-based vehicles… it’s not accurate enough to have the precision you need. But once you go up to third dimension, it’s enough.”