The Flying Taxi Experience May Be Here Sooner Than Expected

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The Flying Taxi Experience May Be Here Sooner Than Expected

As we discussed last year in our analysis of the trend Urban Mobility Takes Off, a concept study by NASA has made the case that taking a ride in a driverless vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) air taxi could become as cheap as taking a ride in an Uber car, and take less than one-third of the time.1

A team led by Mark Moore of NASA’s Langley Research Center focused on the area from Oakland to San Jose.  Assuming that each air taxi would be in the air about 30 hours per week, the cost could realistically match an Uber benchmark of $1.50 per mile. 

But unlike the sluggish commutes on Silicon Valley’s jammed freeways, air taxis would average 34 miles per hour over urban areas—250 percent faster than the same distance traveled by car.  For longer trips, air taxis could reach speeds of 120 to 200 miles per hour.  Of course, there would need to be a takeoff and landing infrastructure to support those flights.  The NASA study suggests putting helipads on the roofs of urban buildings, in the middle of highway cloverleafs, or even on floating barges.  Researchers estimate that there’s room for at least 200 cloverleaf pads in the Silicon Valley region alone.

But now, the concept of travel by air taxi is moving swiftly from idea to implementation.  Since our last report, aviation firms have developed three revolutionary new aircraft that are positioned to make NASA’s vision a reality.

Let’s begin with the Ehang 184, which a Chinese drone-maker called EHang introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016.  Ehang was founded only two years ago and has already attracted roughly $52 million in venture funding. 

The 184 gets its name from the idea that it will carry one passenger, using eight propellers and four arms.  However, that passenger and his or her luggage cannot exceed 220 pounds. 

According to a review of the 184 by, Ehang announced that the 184 will be able to fly for 23 minutes, or about 10 miles, before needing to be recharged for two to four hours.2 

The 184 will only be flown by the drone’s software, eliminating the human pilot completely.  The passenger will enter the destination into a smartphone app and the software will handle the navigation.  Should any problem occur mid-flight, the company claims that Ehang employees in command centers will guide the 184 to a landing at the nearest safe location...

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