Flying Taxis Aren’t Just Science Fiction Anymore

 

In April last year, the managing director of a German start up, Volocopter, took to the air in one of his company’s futuristic-looking electric aircraft. The German aviation authorities had only given the green light for the company to fly their prototype two months earlier, so it was a landmark occasion; the first ever manned flight in a legally-certified ‘multi-copter’.

 Photo: Volocopter managing director Alexander Zosel pilots the world’s first certified electric multi-copter in Germany; 2016. Photo credit:  Volocopter .

Photo: Volocopter managing director Alexander Zosel pilots the world’s first certified electric multi-copter in Germany; 2016. Photo credit: Volocopter.

Volocopter has been experimenting with new forms of personal transport since 2011, and they see their prototype aircraft as an answer to urban congestion. Their radical vision got a big boost in February of this year when Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority announced that they would be partnering with Volocopter to test a flying taxi service in their city.

Volocopter’s partnership with Dubai has been raising quite a few eyebrows in the tech and transport industries, but things started to get real in June, when Daimler joined the party and pledged about $30 million dollars to the flying taxi project.

Volocopter and Dubai’s RTA recently announced that a beta test of the flying taxi service in Dubai is scheduled to begin before the end of this year.

 Photo below: Volocopter - formerly known as E-Volo - prototype test flights in 2011. Photo credit: Volocopter.

Photo below: Volocopter - formerly known as E-Volo - prototype test flights in 2011. Photo credit: Volocopter.

Volocopter has come a long way since their first manned test flights back in 2011. The company’s original prototypes were essentially very large drones (pictured above).

The aircraft that Volocopter will be testing in Dubai this year is equipped with autonomous control, which means that when you call for your flying taxi, it will arrive without a pilot. You climb aboard, and once you input your destination, the vehicle does the rest by itself.

Volocopter’s aircraft have 9 separate batteries driving their 18 rotors, a system designed to prevent accidents. The company claims that the vehicle can safely carry two passengers at speeds up to 100 km/h, even in adverse weather conditions.

 Picture above: an artist’s impression of the Volocopter interior. Picture credit:  Volocopter.

Picture above: an artist’s impression of the Volocopter interior. Picture credit: Volocopter.

 

The Volocopter team met with NASA representatives in 2016 at a transport forum in Washington, and NASA has since published a report suggesting that multi-copters could help to alleviate traffic congestion in major US cities.

Could flying taxis could become a reality in other major cities in the not-too-distant-future? There are some very significant regulatory obstacles to overcome before unmanned passenger aircraft take to the skies, but no doubt the US and other international authorities will be observing the progress of the Dubai Volocopter trials with interest.

Check out this video Volocopter produced for NASA last year:

 
Emmanuel Marshall