Uber: ‘flying taxi technically ready for lift-off in 2020’
If it were up to Uber only, flying drone taxis are technically ready for lift-off in 2020 and will become a common sight above Los Angeles by 2023. But the biggest hurdle to take will be safety regulation of this new air traffic above densely populated cities. This might take ‘a little longer’.
Even in the United States, where several players are working hard to develop this kind of electric drone for transporting people, it could “rather take up to 2030 before all barriers are cleared”, experts say in the margin of a two-day conference Uber organized in the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.
First drone in 1973
On the conference Uber showed scale models and films of futuristic models, like the ones developed by Brazilian private jet builder Embraer, Sovenian start-up Pipistrel or American Karem Aircraft. The latter founded by the former chief designer of the Israeli Air Force, Abraham Karem, who had built his first drone in the 1973’s Yom Kippur War.
Uber Elevation’s program director, Eric Allison, is thinking about drones lifting off vertically like helicopters but with less noise and capable of carrying two to four persons at speeds of 240 to 320 kph over a distance of nearly 100 km without recharging. For a start these electrical aircrafts will be flown by pilots, but will become fully autonomous later.
0,5 dollar per ‘flying’ mile
“With the progress of the innovation and automation, we think it will be possible to lower the costs to make them comparable to those of an individually owned car”, Allison says. A passenger would pay about 0,5 dollar per ‘flying’ mile.
Uber won’t develop the flying taxis itself, but depends on strategic partners for this. Uber will concentrate on offering the service with its apps, like it does for cars today. It already announced in June last year it would start testing with flying taxis in 2020 in Dubai and Dallas (US), but now Los Angeles, Americas most congested city, seems to be the target.
FAA not likely to give in an inch
Maybe the Emirates might be more compliant for these targets, but in the US experts think the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) won’t give in an inch when it comes to safety. Essential is, for instance, a digital communication network that never fails, not even a second per year. Something that has to be a lot more reliable than the smartphone networks today.
The uncertainty of a certification by the FAA of the whole concept is holding back developers of ‘airports’ for these flying taxis. Uber thinks about roofs of parking buildings, but on the busiest spots they won’t be able to cope with the demand.
On roof of parking buildings
These experts point at the fact that even on top of a big parking garage maybe 100 drones per hour can land, recharge for five minutes and take-off again. But demand will be tenfold. And even being electric, this doesn’t mean they don’t produce noise when flying over residential areas, annoying people.
Between 60 and 65 decibel each, where 70 and up, like a vacuum cleaner, is considered annoyingly loud by some people. Maybe something you don’t want in your backyard… And California has public inquiry procedures that measure up with the European ones.
Without a pilot
Those flying taxis would need to fly without a pilot to carry an extra passenger and make the ride affordable. Dutch KPN was testing a Chinese drone taxi remotely operated in the Amsterdam Arena football stadium lately.
But before this becomes reality, who is going to fly them in the meantime? Worldwide there are some 600.000 aircraft pilots and their number is decreasing for 40 years. They won’t have time for hundreds of thousands city air trips extra, critics say.
Lots of players working on it
In spite of all uncertainties, lots of players among which some big ones like airplane manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer and helicopter maker Bell, but also car manufacturers like Daimler and Toyota are working on drone taxis.
Lots of other players from different backgrounds like Chinese electronics giant Huawei with its Ehang 216 AAV and start-ups like Cora from Alphabeth Inc ‘s (Google) CEO Larry Page or Joby, Zee Aero, Kitty Hawk and Airspace X are making progress.
The CityAirbus, from Airbus, will make its first test flights this year, as promised already in October 2017, and probably both Cora and Daimler will get their aircraft airborne somewhere during this year. Technically the hurdles to take are falling fast.