There is something about the thought of a flying car that sparks the imagination – maybe it’s the association with futuristic sci-fi movies or simply the thought of finally finding how to beat the traffic that appeals. And there are many firms competing to return up with the right airborne vehicle, with around 175 new designs currently vying to urge made.
But can a sky-high commute ever be achieved and, if it can, will it’s affordable for the typically harassed commuter? The BBC met two German firms working to form electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft a reality, at a recent tech summit in Lisbon.
Volocopter and Lilium are friendly rivals within the flying taxi space and their crafts look very different. Lilium’s maybe a slick white machine more sort of a plane, while Volocopter’s futuristic design combines the looks of a drone and a helicopter.
Lilium’s electric-powered vehicle is capable of flying for one hour on one charge, but the challenges for the firm are moving from a two-seater model to at least one which will carry more passengers and to modify from vertical to horizontal flight.
Volocopter is planning shorter journeys from bespoke Voloports and by 2035 aims to possess dozens of those across Singapore, ready to handle 10,000 passengers each day. Eventually, it wants its craft to be ready to land anywhere.
In October, Volocopter flew its taxi across Singapore’s Marina Bay – a brief journey, nearly abandoned due to an important downpour. Test flights are incredibly important if firms like Lilium and Volocopter want to realize regulatory favor, but they’re an extended way from a daily commute. However, both firms claim that when their machines begin, they’re going to be affordable for the masses.
“If the journey is brief then the value is going to be almost like that of a traditional taxi, and if it’s an extended trip it’ll be like a high-speed rail ticket or an economy flight,” said Lilium founder Daniel Wiegand.
Volocopter’s founder Alexander Zosel agrees, saying his company was founded on three principles. “To be the quietest possible aircraft, the safest possible, and to not do toys for boys but to democratize aviation .”
Both want to become airborne for real in two to 5 years, initially with a person’s pilot. To become fully autonomous will take a couple of more years beyond this point frame.
Mr. Zosel thinks flying taxis may even beat normal ones within the race to become autonomous.”On the bottom, I feel it’ll be difficult to combine between human drivers and autonomous cars, but within the air, there’s such a lot space and that we do not have pedestrians to stress about.”
But experts remain skeptical about how soon these plans are often realized.”Powering a helicopter requires a totally different level of battery power, endurance, and reliability than powering a car. We’re an extended way from there; it’s going to take many decades,” said aerospace expert Richard Aboulafia.
“And if it happens it’ll be a luxury for wealthy people. I’d be happy if in 20 years we had driverless cars, including something that travels in three dimensions.”The issue with drones, whether or not they carry parcels or people, is whether or not there’ll be public acceptance, not least due to fears they might quite literally fall out of the air.
Mr. Wiegand admits an air filled with drones sounds “scary”.”But they’re going to be at two or three kilometers altitude so you cannot hear them or see them.”
It is not just start-ups planning airborne taxis. Uber has plans to pilot its flying taxis in Dallas, l. a. and Melbourne, with operations thanks to launching during a similar time-frame, around 2023. But the time and expense of designing such vehicles mean that sometimes even the large players drop out.
Airbus had been working with carmaker Audi on a drone but that employment was recently placed on hold. Audi said it had been looking to figure with other VW brands, like Porsche, which is investigating flying taxis with rival Boeing.
Announcing the change of heart, Audi said it thought it might take “a very long time” before flying taxis were ready for production. It looks just like the commute by rail and car might be with us a few times to return.