Drone taxis - enhancing urban mobility

How often have you found yourself stuck in traffic thinking: “I wish could simply fly to my destination…”? Helicopters are simply too expensive and flying cars haven’t hit the market yet (although a Slovakian firm is developing one now). Yet it seems as if some companies have found a solution: drone taxis. Oversized drones powered by batteries will fly passengers from place to place, avoiding traffic and increasing speed dramatically. The first prototypes are already undergoing testing, nonetheless, in order to introduce flying vehicles, many obstacles will have to be overcome.

Volocopter, a German company, successfully completed its first test flight with the “Volocopter 2X” drone past September in Dubai. The firm has received funding from car manufacturing-giant Daimler and venture capital investor Lukasz Gadowski, and is in close cooperation with the city of Dubai. The company is also in talks with Uber, who seem interested to introduce drone taxis as an uber-service. The two-seated drone is powered by nine batteries which operates 18 propellers, and has a flight-time of circa 30 minutes.

The concept of the vehicle works similar to car-sharing. After ordering a drone to a specific landing-spot, you enter and steer it to the desired landing-spot with a joystick, albeit the aim is to have autonomous flying drones, as these will further assure the safety of passengers. 37- year old founder Florian Reuter is convinced his invention is going to sustainably alter the way we travel within in densely populated areas, especially as many cities are facing demographic challenges.

Never in history have more people lived in urban areas than in rural areas. This increase raises the need for mobility, particularly in metropolitan regions which face the challenge of plugged city centres, where it is close to impossible to modify transportation possibilities. However, stuffed streets bring about more burdens than simply traffic. Urban centres have to tackle pollution and noise, and taxi drones might just be the solution to these problems. The developer states that the “Volocopter 2X” runs entirely on electricity, neither generating noise, nor emitting air pollution.

In 2018 “Volocopter 2X” will be eligible to fly in Germany, however, drone taxis will face many challenges in the future. Laws regulating drone flights have not been decided on in most countries, therefore expansion might be tough for the firm. Furthermore, computer scientist and robotics expert Noel Sharkey at Sheffield University stated that once the skies above cities fill up with delivery and taxi drones a big obstacle will be to avoid crashes with other drones, buildings, and birds in the air.

Volocopter is not the only firm working on alternative air transportation in urban areas. Airbus, another German aerospace company, is developing an urban helicopter and are willing to compete with their national counterpart. Ehang, a Chinese company presented a taxi drone capable of transporting a single person for 23 minutes earlier this year. Last year Slovakian entrepreneur Juraj Vaculík introduced the first functioning flying car to the market, the downside to it: in order to fly, you need a private-pilot-license, which would not be necessary for drones.

Florian Reuter, founder of Volocopter, estimates that it will take another decade before drone taxis are introduced, and become generally accessible to the public. Developers face many challenges, nevertheless the benefits of drones enhancing transportation possibilities are indisputable. Once they conquer the city-skies, urban mobility will have finally arrived.