Flight tests look promising for launch of flying taxi services

The Vahana AlphaOne, an electric, autonomous flying taxi, has now experienced its first flight. This is the latest in a series of demonstrations this year which raise confidence for the prospect of flying taxi services.

The first flight of AlphaOne was short, a minute long, but the designers used it as a proof of viability and commented positively on the capacity of the battery, which used 8% of its total energy on the test.

The Vahana project is the brainchild of engineers at A3 by Airbus, the airframe manufacturer’s Silicon Valley based innovations branch.

Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A3 by Airbus shared his vision for the project on a Medium post, saying:

“Beyond developing the vehicle itself, we’re seeking to move key technology categories forward, foster development of the regulatory regime for the certification and operation of automated aircraft, and to otherwise nurture an ecosystem that will help enable the vertical cities of the future.”

On February 5, China’s EHANG 184 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle released video of a series of test flights, with passengers onboard, including EHANG CEO and company executives as well as Guangzhou government officials.

The company’s vision is for EHANG flying taxis to work on a set-circuit of take-off and landing points controlled by a camera onboard which would recognize logo targets on landing pads to confirm it is landing in the right place. However, the craft also has a safety-system in place which would prompt landing immediately in the nearest safe landing area in case of a systems malfunction.

Joby Aviation in California has announced advancements in development of its own eVTOL (all-electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing) vehicle prototype, and raised $100 million in a recent round of funding with backers including Intel Capital, Toyota and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

Bonny Simi, president, JetBlue Technology Ventures says of the investment in the project:

“We believe the regional transportation ecosystem is ripe for disruption and startups like Joby Aviation will revolutionize how people move across urban areas. We are excited about the transformative potential of eVTOLs and believe Joby Aviation is the most advanced company in this emerging sector. Its vehicle platform will be the standard to beat.”

The details of the prototype are still under wraps, but the company has declared three firm goals: redundant safety systems, low noise, and optimised speed and range. Joby has the chops to deliver, having worked closely with NASA on a number of aerodynamics advances.

Bell Helicopter revealed its own vision of the air taxi of the future during CES and is bringing it to HAI Held-Expo in Las Vegas. For now, this flying car is in the concept-design phase with Bell showing a grounded demo, but it has Uber intrigued.

The ride-share company, which has declared plans to solve all of the complications of launching air taxi services well within the next decade, hopes to test-fly taxis in key cities around the world by 2020.

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