Driving home after work being frustrated because of the traffic jam… What a nice idea would it be just to take off and hover above the other’s heads, to spare time and to win some leisure time… A wonderful vision!
Vision? Wait a minute… this vision is becoming reality! Really? YES, really!
In fact – it will only take a few years! Not everybody shares this opinion, but the flying service will be available soon.
The first air taxis already have taken off – the VOLOCOPTER Prototype for example already in 2011. This is a big drone where 1-2 people can take place, made of light carbon fiber, electrically driven by a lot of electronics. It has several propellers which let it take off vertically and it is controlled by a redundant autopilot system.
It can fly a distance of nearly 30 kilometers.
But this is just one example of many air taxis in development. There are similar projects such as Airbus with its VAHANA, the LILIUM jet or Google with air taxi CORA, but there are also a lot of “small, unknown” players on the market. Partly with totally different technologies – but a lot of competition is good because it stimulates rapid development. Uber even thinks of offering air taxi services in Dallas within the next 10 years. At the last conference in Los Angeles UBER even announced they want to be ready for series production by 2023.
When we look closer at it in fact it’s even easier to use autonomous vehicles in the air than on the road. Why? Where can we find more hazards? Of course, on the roads – because these are much busier and unpredictable. Cars sometimes must avoid obstacles every second – that may be other vehicles, pedestrians or anything else. The air space Is relatively empty, there are almost no obstacles. Especially unpredictable events which can appear suddenly – like a child running across the road.
Apart from that several functions of aircraft are already controlled by autopilot.
Mentioned obstacles should basically be recognized by environmental sensors like cameras, RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging), and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). Low-noised electric drive should avoid high noise pollution.
But the biggest problem here is the behavior of the flying taxis – they must comply to the rules! These are on the one hand the rules of the air and the other side the relevant safety standards.
First the safety compliance of the EU (DO-178C/DO-254) should be fulfilled by the developers.
After that the validation follows – an aviation authority (AustroControl for example) says if the flight taxi meets the approval regulations. They will prove if the autonomous aircraft’s behavior is in accordance with the traffic rules – here’s the difficulty! How to do that??? KONTROL has a simple mathematical solution for that!
But even concerning this point an economic upturn is coming! Some weeks ago, a German politician’s (Dorothea Bär) statement in a TV interview “Digitalization does not only mean broadband expansion. We also have to implement laws and regulations for air taxis which we will have in the near future.” first was met with laughter. But this changed quickly. When we look closer at this topic we see that she was absolutely right.
The European Union already invested several million Euros for research projects which deal with technologies for the passenger transportation in the air – so things are already moving.
In Dubai a test operation of air taxis has already started. But there’s happening a lot in this field also in Europe – here JARUS should be mentioned (Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems).
For take-off and landing UBER proposes stations on skyscrapers (Project ELEVATE), like bus or railway stations. Here the taxis also could be maintained, and the batteries could be changed or recharged.
If this service will be used by only the upper crust or by the crowd – here also the opinions differ. Probably the next few years the first one will be right, but within the following years the second one.
Yes, we are going to fly! 100 years ago, moving under the earth, exactly by subways, sounded futuristic to us, nowadays it’s absolutely normal. Just like that at the latest for our grandchildren it will be part of everyday life to move to work by air taxi in the morning…