People Carrying Drones? Drone Taxis? Whatever Next!?
Man has always dreamt of flying, just not like this. Drone taxis are what you could call a flying car. Yes, they have no wheels, but look at any prototype/concept image of these flying machines, and you’ll know what we mean.
A drone taxi is sometimes referred to as a passenger drone or eVTOL craft, depending on who you ask. Visually, they resemble the standard drones we have today — you know, the type you use to grab some sick aerial shots via remote control.
Try not to compare them to helicopters or standard planes too much.
Yeah, drone taxis are a bit different.
These vehicles transport people and are virtually noiseless, like standard drones, only a lot more powerful. Most use electric parts too, making them a lot better for the environment.
Get ready, for these drone taxis could replace standard ride-hailing services in time. So step aside land vehicles; there’s a new king in town.
Some drone taxis have been made for racing if you can believe that, but more on that in a second.
The world looks so tiny from the top down when in flight
What Is A Drone Taxi Exactly?
The drones you might be familiar with have multiple uses. For example, the military use drones during missions. Hobbyists have also made drones one of their favourite toys for creating breathtakingvideos or just to fly around.
Moreover, some commercial companies like Amazon have entertained the idea of using drones to deliver packages to customers.
A drone taxi is a little different in that it can carry actual people, taking them from point A to point B with ease.
Most drone taxis you see look incredibly futuristic, to the point where they could easily fit into your favourite sci-fi universe and not seem out of place. Take a look at the Audi/Airbus flying taxi drone and tell us it doesn’t belong to Skynet.
Drone taxis go by many names (for reference):
- Passenger drone
- Flying taxi
- Pilotless helicopter
Furthermore, a taxi drone is categorised as a personal air vehicle (PAV) — it’s also associated with electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft, as mentioned.
Many will try to make a distinction between the two, but we consider both types interchangeable.
The First Drone Taxi to Fly
Multiple tech companies have tried their hand in crafting commercial drone taxis over the years, and most of them fell short of the mark. That was until 2016 when the Ehang 184 was revealed to the world at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The Ehang 184 was an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV), meaning it could fly without passenger intervention.
This drone taxi can fly up to 62mph, courtesy of eight propellors located on four arms. In terms of range, the 184 could carry one passenger up to 16km — or 9.9 miles, which isn’t far compared to the drone taxis shown in later years.
According to Chinese company Ehang, more than 1,000 test flights were conducted. Tests were conducted using actual passengers and test dummies. Apparently, flying the Ehang 184 in storm-force winds led to some “violent” outcomes.
Those poor dummies.
So, what happened to the 184? Ehang would later reveal the Ehang 216, a slightly superior craft, this time, capable of carrying two passengers.
Moreover, unlike the 184, this passenger drone was actually given permission to fly in designated areas, passing the recommended certification tests in China.
Back in 2018, the Ehang 216 was used for island-hopping, taking passengers up and around a coastal resort.
But wait, there’s more. Last year Ehang received the world’s first commercial pilot approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and a special flight operations certificate from the Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) to run test flights in the great white north.
You could be seeing an Ehang 216 in a sky near you sooner rather than later.
The Benefits of Drone Taxis
It’s easy to look at a passenger drone and think of it as nothing more than fancy tech with no practical uses.
Trust us when we tell you that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Companies like Volocopter and Joby Aviation are changing aviation for the better, presenting new ideas when it comes to short-haul travel.
You see, drone taxis were never meant to replace long-distance flying. In fact, most drone taxi companies you come across only wish to provide an alternative to urban travel; in the same way that Uber burst onto the scene.
Imagine that, getting to and from major cities looking down at the world like they do in space.
Other companies, like Archer Aviation, see eVTOL aircraft as the future and hopes to advance the tech best they can for the greater good. You’ll often hear companies citing “advancing the tech” as one of the main catalysts behind their work.
Moreover, some electric drone taxis are cheaper to maintain, thus lowering the cost of taking flight (according to these companies).
The eVTOL aircraft Virgin Atlantic/Vertical Aerospace is currently collaborating on could eventually make it cheaper/easier for passengers to travel from airport to airport.
Above all else, a drone taxi is noiseless, meaning it generates no noise pollution at all, which is said to be a real problem in residential areas close to airports and landing strips.
To recap, here are the benefits of drone taxis:
- It’s predicted to be cheaper than other air options in future.
- Electric drone taxis are better for the environment.
- Unlike standard helicopters/aircraft, a taxi drone is noiseless.
Electric Drone Taxis of the Future Could Race
Yep, some drone taxis could take part in some exciting air races in the not so distant future.
What evidence do we have of this? Well, the Alauda Airspeeder Mk3 had a successful test flight last week in Australia.
For those not in the loop, the Airspeeder Mk3 is like a drone taxi, only you’d be better off calling it a flying race car, built for the sole purpose of airborne competition.
The Airspeeder EXA series is hailed as “the world’s first racing series for manned flying electric cars,” with races planned very soon.
Tests/certification will need to be earned before races can be piloted by actual people. For now, though, a dummy in the cockpit will have to suffice with the Mk3 piloted via remote control from the ground.
Still, the potential of a drone taxi race should be enough to get anyone excited. The racing series has all the makings of a Formula One-like competition.
Races will consist of 10 Mk3’s, and judging by the preview video we’ve seen, they will take place in various destinations across the planet.
Be sure to follow Airspeeder on social media to get all the updates.
Travelling from city to city, or suburb to suburb could be handled by a drone in future
The Drone Taxi Companies You Need To Follow
There are quite a few eVTOL/drone taxi companies to follow right now.
Off the top of our head, the leading names include:
- BETA Technologies
- Joby Aviation
New eVTOL startups come out of the woodwork often. One thing we’ve noticed is how different each look.
For example, electric cars tend to be quite limited in terms of shape. In contrast, taxi drones appear to be a lot more out there in comparison.
Some look like enlarged remote control toys, and others look out of this world.
Remember to give us your thoughts/opinions via social media once you’ve had a good look at these drone taxis.
Below you’ll find our picks for the best drone taxi companies worth following.
© Credit to Archer Aviation
Say hello to Archer Aviation, a company spearheading the future of flight.
The company is based in Palo Alto, California and is the self-proclaimed “only vertically integrated airline company.”
Their mission? To help fix the traffic problem building in big cities and switch to renewable transport solutions. Archer Aviation recently revealed its ‘Maker’ eVTOL to the world, a two-seater aircraft described as “a bold first step in urban air mobility.”
Maker can travel up to 60 miles at a time, hitting speeds of up to 150 mph. The goal of Maker is to serve as a “certification testbed,” acting as a preliminary version to a five-seater craft in 2024.
Archer says Maker is “100x quieter than a helicopter” despite being a 12-rotor aircraft — which, again, is one of the main selling points of drone taxis as a whole.
© Credit to BETA Technologies
BETA Technologies is the company behind ALIA, an electric vertical aircraft said to be “revolutionary.”
The Vermont company is known mainly for ALIA but have also shown an interest in establishing a network of charging stations made just for eVTOL aircraft.
A prototype station was built, made from recycled shipping containers, and powered via solar panels/the local grid. You could actually sleep in this charging station, too — let’s not forget that.
Last month, BETA closed a $368 million funding round, backed by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund.
Investors/companies look at BETA as one of the leading names in this wave of drone taxis. This is why UPS put an order in for 150 of BETA’s aircraft and charging stations for the use of deliveries.
And why Blade, a leasing company, ordered five ALIA aircraft to transport people from busy urban areas to nearby airports.
Did we mention that BETA also has ties to the United States Air Force?
© Credit to Joby Aviation
Another California-based aviation company with tremendous potential; you might have heard of Joby Aviation before?
This startup was founded all the way back in 2009 by JoeBen Bevirt. Joby Aviation began crafting subscale prototypes of eVTOL aircraft in 2015. They’d later move to the real deal in 2019 with a production prototype.
So, what do we know about the aircraft?
It’s called Joby; we know that. We also know that it’s powered by six electric motors and can carry four passengers and one pilot.
Joby is also a lot faster than some of the other drone taxis out there (200mph top speed). Joby Aviation has ran more than 1,000 test flights over the last 10 years to ensure Joby is up to the task — and meets safety standards outlined by regulators.
© Credit to Vertical Aerospace
Last but by no means least, we have Vertical Aerospace, the British aviation company straight out of Bristol.
CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick is an ex-Formula One team owner and avid entrepreneur.
Remember when we said some drone taxis look out of this world? Yeah, Vertical Aerospace are mostly responsible for why we think that.
For example, the VA-X1, a prototype aircraft flown in 2018, resembles a cyborg beetle (the insect, not the car).
The VA-X4, on the other hand, looks like a cyborg hornet and could very well be the best eVTOL aircraft we’ve seen from a visual perspective alone.
Spec-wise, the VA-X4 could give the Joby a run for its money with the Vertical aircraft matching it speed for speed (200mph). Moreover, it can carry five people max (one pilot and four passengers).
Earlier this year, Vertical Aerospace announced plans to partner with Rolls-Royce to develop its electrical power system.
Furthermore, Vertical recently said it was exploring a drone taxi service as part of an exclusive deal with Virgin Atlantic.
There’s no better eVTOL company to follow if you live in the UK than Vertical Aerospace.
Why Haven’t Drone Taxis Arrived Sooner?
Like with any tech, certifications and permits are required ahead of time if drone taxi companies want to get projects off the ground. The tech is 100% ready in some cases, but safety is paramount.
Furthermore, the tech behind these aircraft has only picked up in the past decade or so. It goes without saying, but drone taxis require a level of care/attention compared to other aircraft.
For example, gravity is not on the side of most drone taxis.
Why is that? Well, the passenger compartment of eVTOL aircraft aren’t always located underneath the rotor, like with a helicopter. This can make steering the aircraft difficult as weight is distributed differently.
Another obvious reason is the fact that it was quite a risky bet. Like electric cars, investing in drone taxis was unheard of almost. We’re spoilt for choice right now in terms of companies occupying the space.
Access to parts and the internet has given startups the ability to create a real buzz. It’s definitely helped some achieve what is known as ‘unicorn status.’ A unicorn is a privately owned company valued at over £1 billion for the uninitiated.
Drones are the future of flight, trust us
Wrapping Up: People Carrying Drones? Drone Taxis? Whatever Next!?
Can man fly by drone? Yes, he can, thanks to the drone taxis shown here.
It’s true, most aren’t out yet, but test flights appear promising and give us a pretty good idea of where the aviation industry is heading.
The future of flight is here — or, at least, the preliminary versions of future craft are here. What you see now will go on to inspire future tech. We can’t imagine the designs of drone taxis changing all that much.
That being said, expect them to get bigger to accommodate more passengers in time. Most drone taxis can only carry around one to two passengers at the moment. Future versions could carry entire households/families.
Look to the skies and watch this space — that’s all we’re saying.