In the transportation sector over the last decade, there has been tremendous change. Major shifts in travel patterns occurred with the introduction of ride-sharing options by Uber and Lyft. This was then followed by a barrage of new alternatives for end-route destination travel. E-bikes, electric scooters, and similar devices now provide great solutions for consumers. And of course, autonomous and electric vehicles are beginning to appear in several cities around the world. Therefore, it only makes sense that the next wave will involve air travel. And air taxis look to be next in the list of innovations.
In recent years, several startups are advancing their versions of air taxis, of which many are drone-like in nature. These systems are often described as vertical takeoff and landing systems, or VTOL for short. Understandably, such drone-like features allow more discrete travel to take place. But these VTOL offerings have a number of other advantages as well. This is why many major corporations in the transportation sector are paying attention and getting involved. Based on the evidence, it appears bladeless air taxis will be here quite soon.
“Part of how United will combat global warming is by embracing emerging technologies that decarbonize air travel. By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation.” – Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines
Major Airlines Investing in VTOL Drone-Like Innovations
When it comes to drone-like aircraft, there are several companies in the industry today. One of those that recently received a great deal of attention is Archer Aviation, based on Palo Alto, California. Archer recently went public after receiving a major boost from United Airlines, which receive a $1 billion order from United Airlines. Given the constraints that airline industry is facing regarding carbon emissions, this is not so surprising. The investment also allows United to expand its air travel services to include things like bladeless air taxis. This has the potential to be a highly competitive space in the future.
As far as Archer is concerned, the company has not yet launched an active product for the public to use. However, it plans to release its full-scale drone-like VTOL model some time this year. Its model will be able to transport people up to 60 miles traveling at 150 mph. Archer also anticipates that production will start on its air taxies by 2023 with availability shortly thereafter. Of course, this will depend on a variety of other factors beyond their control, such as FAA rules and regulations. This could be an area where United Airlines might be able to help in accelerating the necessary changes needed.
“We were proud to partner with Uber Elevate last year and we’re even prouder to be welcoming them into the Joby team today…[Uber Elevate’s] tools and new team members will be invaluable to us as we accelerate our plans for commercial launch.” – JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO of Joby Aviation
Bladeless Air Taxis as a New Form of Ride-Sharing
United Airlines isn’t the only existing transportation mogul interested in bladeless air taxis. This past year, Uber Elevate, its VTOL division, was purchased by Joby Aviation, based in Santa Cruz. Its decision to sell Uber Elevate, as well as prior investments, showed Uber believes Joby is on the right track. This is now further supported by the fact that Joby recently went public after a $6.6 billion valuation. The company expects to launch its bladeless air taxis some time in 2024. This again assumes regulatory environments will be conducive to such transportation options.
Joby Aviation, founded in 2009 by millionaire entrepreneur Hoeben Bevirt, has been developing drone-like aircraft for over a decade. Its air taxis look a lot like a small helicopter. This comes complete with 6 top-mounted, tilted blade propellers. However, these aircraft are all electric, much quieter than a helicopter, and has good travel distance. In addition to being able to travel up to 150 miles, it also can travel up to 200 mph. This will go a long way in meeting evolving ride-sharing needs. All of these features make Joby’s air taxis attractive to investors.
“[Our system] improves propulsive efficiency by more than 10 percent while lowering fuel consumption by more than 50 percent compared to small turbojets. The propulsion system saves approximately 30 percent in weight compared to turbofans or turboprops and also significantly reduces complexity.” – Jetoptera statement regarding its J-2000 Model
Latest Innovations in Drone-Like Aircraft
Companies like Joby and Archer may be getting recent headlines, but others are pushing innovation further. Seattle-based startup Jetoptera specializes in propulsion systems and drone-like mobility solutions. Its latest endeavor involves the use of bladeless propulsion systems in its own air taxis, which offer several advantages. Using similar concepts as the Dyson bladeless vacuums, Jetoptera introduced its Fluidic Propulsion System. This system uses compressed air pushed through larger ambient air to generate lift-off and thrust. As a result, it is not only quieter but also lighter and more fuel efficient.
While this bladeless system has long-term potential, Jetoptera is not as close to mass production as other companies making air taxis. Likewise, it is not yet electric, relying on fuel to generate the compressed air needed. But regardless, their innovations highlight just how rapidly this sector is evolving. This is the reason why regulatory changes are needed that address protocols, safety, and air traffic. (Read more about the need for greater regulation of drones in this Bold story.) As rapidly as these transportation options are developing, designing the necessary infrastructures will be essential.
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