A startup created by Matt Chasen, the founder of the uShip online shipping marketplace, aims to sell rides on electric-powered aircraft that are so simple to operate that tourists can take them out for a spin.
Lift Aircraft is based in Austin, Texas, but Chasen told GeekWire that Seattle is high on the list of places where the company’s Hexa ultralights could have their first outings.
The market for autonomous flying cars — also known as eVTOL aircraft, air taxis or personal air vehicles — could amount to nearly $1.5 trillion by the year 2040, according to an in-depth analysis from Morgan Stanley Research.
“We see the development of the UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem as extremely long-dated and requiring up-front capital allocation, testing and development in the short term, with increasing visibility;” said Morgan Stanley’s research team, which includes senior analyst Adam Jonas.
A flying car developed by Airbus, Audi and Italdesign took a high-profile test flight today at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference, but its size was low-profile.
The modular vehicle was a quarter-scale demonstration model of the “Pop.Up Next” transportation system that the three companies are developing.
The idea is to have a passenger compartment that can sit on top of a four-wheeled electric vehicle to travel the roads, or attach to the bottom of a quadcopter to fly through the air. At the Amsterdam show, the three companies displayed impressive full-scale mockups of the flying car, but the gizmo that actually flew was basically a drone with brackets attached.
The rise of air mobility options ranging from delivery drones to air taxis and flying cars is shaping up as the biggest thing to hit aviation since the introduction of jet engines, NASA’s top official on aeronautics says.
“I happen to believe that this is a revolution coming in aviation,” Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, told a Seattle audience this week. “But if we do not methodically practice our best practices and all the know-how in the aviation field, this could become a total disaster.”
To avoid that total disaster, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have set up a process called the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges, modeled in part on the DARPA Grand Challenges that set the stage for autonomous ground vehicles more than a decade ago.
The next few days will bring dueling announcements from Boeing and Airbus about how many jetliners they’re selling, but one of the hottest tech frontiers at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow looks forward to something completely different: flying cars.
Aston Martin, the British car company that Agent 007 made famous in a string of James Bond movies, is getting into the act. So is the civil aerospace team at Rolls-Royce, a company that’s as British as it gets.
A Silicon Valley startup called Opener is taking the wraps off a single-seat, all-electric flying vehicle known as BlackFly, which the company says will require no formal licensing in the U.S.
“The future of aviation begins today,” Alan Eustace, a former Google executive (and record-setting free-fall skyjumper) who is now a director at Opener, said in a news release. “The dream of flight, which was so difficult and expensive to obtain, will soon be within the reach of millions. Opener is putting the fun back into flying and opening up a new world of possibilities.”
Opener says a developmental version of the tandem-wing, eight-rotor craft has gone into the air more than 1,400 times, with the total distance flown exceeding 12,000 miles.
The vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft is flown with a joystick, has a pushbutton “Return-to-Home” system for autonomous flight back to its base, and can be outfitted with an emergency parachute.
“Safety has been our primary driving goal in the development of this new technology,” Opener CEO Marcus Leng said. “Opener will be introducing this innovation in a controlled and responsible manner. Even though not required by FAA regulations, BlackFly operators will be required to successfully complete the FAA Private Pilot written examination and also complete company-mandated vehicle familiarization and operator training.”
In an interview with CBS, Leng said Opener is aiming to put BlackFly on the market next year for the “price of an SUV.”
Some of the designs look like winged motorcycles. There’s a cute mini-airplane with stubby wings. And a couple of the contraptions look more like time machines than flying machines.
The diversity among the winners in the first phase of the $2 million GoFly Prize competition for personal air vehicles doesn’t faze Gwen Lighter, the program’s founder and CEO. The way she sees it, that’s what’s wonderful about the contest.
“Just like there there are many different types of cars available to drive, so too the diversity that we are seeing in the many different types of personal flying solutions that have been submitted will allow the public to be able to choose the best method for whatever they are doing at that particular moment,” she told GeekWire. “In that sense, it’s very exciting to see all the different permutations.”
Uber executives are providing an update on their plans to put flying cars in the air by 2020, with commercial rides beginning in 2023, but the most pointed comments from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi address the rideshare company’s present challenges.
Khosrowshahi’s interview with CBS News came in conjunction with today’s kickoff of the second annual Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles, which focuses on Uber’s plans to operate fleets of electric-powered, vertical-takeoff-and-landing air taxis.
“We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” Khosrowshahi told CBS.
It’s not exactly a revelation that the Boeing Co. is interested in autonomous flight, including robo-planes that can fly people. But in a Bloomberg News interview, Boeing’s CEO says air taxis could be coming sooner than expected.
“I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” Dennis Muilenburg, who also serves as Boeing’s president and chairman, told Bloomberg in last week’s interview. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”
The timetable for technology adoption will depend on how quickly regulators work out the “rules of the road” for autonomous flight, he said.
Fleets of air taxis could well become commonplace within a decade, Muilenburg said, but he cautioned that “it won’t be all turned on in one day.”
Vahana, the Airbus-backed venture that’s developing a fleet of electric-powered air taxis, shared the results of its first flight test amid the prairies of eastern Oregon three weeks ago. But now there’s video showing the Alpha One octocopter landing on its airstrip at the Pendleton UAS Test Range.