Are sky taxis set to make cities congestion free?
After Germany and Dubai, Volocopter's air taxi, an aircraft that's a cross between a helicopter and a drone, is soon to be tested in Singapore city centre. And commercialisation of this futuristic technology made in Germany could be envisaged for 2024 or 2022 even, aiming to reduce congestion in our cities: a strong argument for the electric air taxi sector.
So is the autonomous electric sky taxi set to be the taxi of tomorrow?
Like a taxi, it operates a short-distance service in city centres. And just like a helicopter, it takes off vertically. Like a drone, no pilot is required, and it's equipped with several rotors (18) to ensure safe takeoff and landing. Like a plane, it flies smoothly, adapting to minor turbulence encountered between skyscrapers, 'it' being Volocopter's VTOL; vertical take-off and landing aircraft, a fully electric autonomous craft that flies at an altitude of 100 meters, and at an average speed of 50 km/hour.
Autonomous taxis for the Paris Olympics?
Launched in 2017, Volocopter's test flights are to continue in Singapore city centre at the end of the second half of 2019. If they prove conclusive, the aircraft could be in the Paris region in the run-up to the 2024 Olympic Games. More broadly, the German company plans "to forge further partnerships with cities – as in Singapore – and other companies around the world for tests in real and local conditions," says Fabien Nestmann, Volocopter's director of public affairs. When initially introduced, Velocopter's air taxi would have a pilot onboard, before going on to become fully autonomous once regulations have been introduced.
UFOs in the city
Star of the 3rd edition of the Autonomy show, which took place in Paris in October, Volocopter's competitors include some major players: America's Kitty Hawks and Joby Aviation, China's Ehang, and Uber Elevate, which announced the opening of an R&D center dedicated to on-demand air transport in Paris in anticipation of passenger trips by 2023. For this service, as for meal delivery by drone planned for 2021, the argument of Uber's subsidiary is the same: shorter ride times and less congestion in city centres.
In this respect, Seabubbles’ all-electric hydrofoils, or hyropters, tested in 2018 on the Seine and on Lake Geneva, are achieving great feats. In the case of Lake Geneva they connect both shores of the Swiss lake in eight minutes, instead of the 1h 15 min it takes by land, and without making any waves or noise. Volocopter, for its part, promises to do Roissy Charles de Gaulle to Place de l'Etoile in 25 minutes, guaranteeing a tip that’s traffic jam-free. A weighty argument, but one that does not dispel questions concerning regulatory developments, potential reservations about boarding an aircraft without a human pilot onboard, and the din that could be made by a load of VTOLs taking off from city-centre skyscrapers.
These are drawbacks that Volocopter is trying to overcome, with an aircraft that is already much less noisy than a helicopter. As for the limited battery life of VTOLs, Fabien Nestmann sums up: "There's been a great deal of progress in battery technologies. Volocopter is capable of covering the vast majority of rides that people want or need to make in the city. Furthermore, we're constantly working to improve batteries, so that they're more efficient and faster to recharge". To be continued, therefore.
The Volocopter robot taxi in figures
2 - The number of places in a Volocopter
30 km or 30 minutes -The VTOL's range before needing to recharge between trips
100 km per hour - The craft's maximum speed
18 - The number of rotors