The mobility sector doesn’t stop developing and innovating with the advance of new technologies and the beginning of the 5G: the connection that will allow the multi-connectivity of the devices and will be a huge advance for the consolidation of the autonomous vehicles. At LÚCID we are convinced that flying taxis are a technological innovation in which the product design will play a significant role.
But, what are flying taxis or Vee-tols (VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing) and how we can analyze them from the perspective of product design? Flying Taxis are the future flying cars that will allow the transport of people in the same city. A trend that's been developing for the growing demand in the flight industry in the recent years and that leads us to predict that the number of passenger airplanes in the sky will double by 2035.
On several occasions, futuristic cinema has shown flying and self-directed cars. And maybe this future is not so far. Companies like Uber are already working on personal airplanes design, such as taxis, which will circulate in the sky in three or four years. Although it is achievable, there is still a lot of work and investment to make this reality an affordable element.
The United Kingdom and the USA have already been tested the first circulation of unmanned car designs. Boeing, the American aeronautical company, this year has made the first flight test with the idea of giving an advance to what awaits the traffic of the future.
Another example is Audi, which has presented its new product: an efficient flying taxi model for large cities and that can be used both in the air and on the road.
More efficient trips with safety guarantees
Another challenge facing companies is to enhance security as an element for reliability in air and autonomous transport.
In this regard, the European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) has already launched the first regulations that could allow the operation of hybrid and electric aircraft. This institution continues working together with the most important aeronautical companies to expand the regulatory framework for a new generation of vehicles, based on new technologies and concepts of air transport.
The Uber taxi company could present its flying taxi services in 5 years, and they have 3 important challenges: which routes to prioritize and where to put the airports, how to share the routes to make it more viable and, finally, achieve eco-friendly, safe and quiet vehicles.
Although there is still a long way to answer all the questions that we have about this technology. Thanks to the advances made by aeronautical companies, we can answer some of our concerns:
1. Where will the flight platforms be installed? The model of air taxis isn’t defined yet. According to their proportions and capacities, it should be assessed where and how the flight platform is installed. If we start from the base that a small helicopter needs a landing platform of at least 15 meters in diameter, it is difficult to imagine many platforms of these measures in urban areas.
Also, ruling out the possibility of installing them in the parks, only the option of the upper part of the buildings remains. But not all buildings have a 15-meter roof and 50-100 platforms would be needed throughout a city.
2. Who will have landing priority? A platform could accommodate up to 12 landings in one hour (with an interval of 5 minutes) for air taxis to work efficiently. But, the questions remain in our head: who decides which taxis have landing priority and who controls it? If the first to arrive has priority, how will the other destinations be served? or, how will a large number of people arrive and leave the platform?
3. How can we make sure the trips are safe? Electric motors could be the solution of air taxis, both for efficiency and safety. An example is the French electric helicopter Volta, which includes this new technology to improve in terms of safety, autonomy, performance and flight quality. But, one of the main issues against the technology is the limiting factor of its battery, according to its creators National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC).
To guarantee that the engine power system, electrical and navigation system is reliable is crucial. The Washington Post noted that 418 serious accidents involving drones have been recorded in US military operations. Thus, the approval system for flying vehicles requires thorough testing to facilitate reliability and, in many cases, requires dual systems to address system failures. This will be a great challenge for flying taxi manufacturers.
4. In what areas can air taxis fly? How will we avoid air collisions? Manned airplanes are based on the rules of visual flight "see and be seen" when they fly to lower levels. If we change the height restriction for unmanned taxis, how would they comply with "see and avoid"? An example to understand the complex situation of air traffic and its regulations are drones. The challenge of flying taxis will be establish protocols that are applied consistently and safely way, according to ABC.
The need to establish a protocol is born in cases where air taxis are converging with each other. For example, should airplanes yield to the right or to a plane that goes up?
Urban environments not only have physical obstacles for air taxis, buildings can also cause wakefulness and unpredictable whirlpools depending on the amount of wind. Clouds can also create thermal turbulence, along with hail, heavy rains and downward currents (microbursts). So, air taxis must be able to fly in adverse weather conditions, otherwise, their use will be very limited.
5. So, how should air taxis be regulated? As we have explained before, administrations have the responsibility to start developing regulatory policies to make possible safe routes for flying taxis. Many of which are based on existing regulations and in practice, such as drones.
In this way, air taxis must also have a different and specific regulation. For example, drones are currently limited to flying in the airspace that is separated from the manned aircraft.
According to Royal Decree- Law 1036/2017, drones cannot fly more than 400 feet (122 meters) above ground level and are not allowed to operate near airports. These regulations are designed to reduce risks to airplanes, some of them which transport more than 500 people.
In the near future, where self-directed cars will transport people and air traffic will be more crowded by technological devices, aviation regulations will be more complex and extended to different options.
A new mobility trend, which still leaves some questions to solve but, at the same time, is drawn as an urban mobility alternative in the not so distant future. We will follow closely as the trend progresses.