Uber says it’s on track to start flying its first all-electric air taxis on a demonstration basis next year, with commercial service due to begin in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles areas in 2023.
Five teams from around the world have risen to new heights in the GoFly Prize competition, a $2 million-plus contest backed by Boeing to encourage the development of personal flying machines.
The Phase II contest winners, unveiled today in connection with the SAE AeroTech Americas conference in Charleston, S.C., will receive $50,000 prizes and the chance to compete for the $1 million grand prize in a future fly-off.
“Now we can unequivocally say we will be able to make people fly within the next one to two years,” Gwen Lighter, GoFly’s CEO and founder, told GeekWire in advance of the announcement.
Team Zeva’s entry in the Boeing-backed $2 million GoFly Prize competition looks like a flying saucer that’s built for one — but there’s method behind the science-fiction madness.
“That’s typically the comment that it draws: ‘It looks like a flying saucer,’ ” the leader of the Tacoma, Wash.-based team, Stephen Tibbitts, told GeekWire. “What drove us to the shape is, we knew we wanted to maximize our wing area in the space allotted.”
The GoFly Prize was established in 2017 to encourage innovation in the development of personal air vehicles. The rules state that teams must design one-person flying machines that are capable of making vertical or near-vertical takeoffs and taking 20-mile area trips, all without refueling or recharging.
The machines can be jetpacks, or flying motorcycles, or giant quadcopters, but all of the hardware has to fit within an 8.5-foot-wide sphere. In Team Zeva’s view, a flying saucer makes the most use of that volume.
Boeing says it has successfully completed the first test flight of a prototype for its autonomous passenger air vehicle, which could start carrying riders as early as next year.
The test was executed on Jan. 22 at an airport in Manassas, Va., near the headquarters of Aurora Flight Sciences, the Boeing subsidiary that’s been developing the electric-powered, vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft, also known as an eVTOL craft. Boeing NeXt, the business unit that leads Boeing’s urban air mobility efforts, is in charge of the test program.
The uncrewed flight lasted less than a minute and involved a controlled takeoff, hover and landing. The maneuvers were designed to test the prototype’s autonomous functions and ground control systems. A test dummy was strapped inside the cockpit for the ride.
Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical flight and forward flight. That transition is considered the most challenging mode for high-speed eVTOL aircraft.
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.”