Vehicle Technology

Flying Cars in Four Years

This article is based in part on trends outlined in the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® report Five Technology Trends to Watch.

Overview The world of urban air mobility may be coming to life sooner than consumers thought with vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts.

The burgeoning air taxi industry has continued to evolve, and, bolstered by new vehicle technology and the popularity of ride-sharing, may soon spawn a fleet of flying cars hover above everyday streets.

A new kind of aerial vehicle, the vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) could be the helicopter-drone combination that brings the mobility industry to realize that dream.

Ride-sharing giant Uber shared that its intention is to have thousands of VTOLs sharing a city’s airspace.

“Our goal is to make traveling by air as economical as traveling by car,” said Nikhil Goel, head of product at Uber Elevate, the company unit working on VTOL development.

 

Addressing the Challenges

Morgan Stanley reports that VTOLs would be able to complete four trips in the time it takes for each single trip a car makes on the ground could, and it projects that by 2040, the industry’s addressable market could reach $1.5 trillion.

As innovators in the vehicle tech space work to make that projection a reality, they are addressing some of the challenges that must be overcome before air taxis and VTOLs are ready for use on a mass scale.

EmbraerX, a unit of Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer S.A., is developing an electric-propulsion VTOL (eVTOL) maintenance system named Beacon and a urban air mobility (UAM) air traffic management system for flying taxis.

“Our goal is to make traveling by air as economical as traveling by car."

Nikhil Goel
Head of Product, Uber Elevate

Antonio Campello, president and CEO of EmbraerX, noted that it’s not just about creating the next generation of aircrafts. It’s about allowing more aircraft to fly simultaneously while keeping them safely airborne.

Other current limitations include battery technology and energy density, which is how much power can be delivered for a given weight, design and more. VTOLs, meant to be an efficient system for both passenger and cargo transportation, must be designed with consideration for both enough energy to go the distance and ensure a smooth takeoff and landing.

 

Cars Fly Solo

Colleagues at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering are working on research tracks for technologies that let drones navigate through airspace without the aid of GPS, including one that focuses on ways for multiple drones to communicate for collaborative navigation. The technologies and results from studies like those from Tandon could very well be applied to autonomous VTOLs in the near future.

First looks at air taxis, such as the Bell Nexus that was unveiled at CES 2019, showcases vehicle-to-everything connectivity technology that will allow full autonomous airborne vehicles in the future.

According to Uber Elevate’s timeline, the first tests of unmanned VTOL aircrafts will take place in rural environments next year. Then they’ll move to urban areas, before fully launching commercially in 2023.
Though timeframe and price points are still largely estimates and optimistic projections, the potential of urban air mobility presents a business opportunity for major growth in the vehicle tech industry in the coming years.


Learn more in CTA’s Five Technology Trends to Watch.

Take a Deeper Dive

5 Technology Trends to Watch

Each year the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® selects five topics to explore how these promising areas could impact our future. For the 2019 edition, we focus on tech tackling therapy in the digital health space, what is coming next in transportation, the future of food, how facial recognition is impacting the world, and robots that will continue to improve lives.

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