Urban Mobility Takes Off

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Urban Mobility Takes Off

Suddenly, the 21st century world envisioned more than fifty years ago for the fictional Jetsons family seems closer than anyone imagined. While cost-effective service robots will probably be focused on eldercare and hazardous situations for the next twenty years, commuters could end up flying to and from their jobs much sooner.

According to a new NASA concept study, taking a ride in a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) air taxi could become as cheap as taking an Uber ride, and get you where you’re going in less than one-third of the time.1

In fact, it’s the combination of an Uber-like ride-on-demand business model with state-of-the-art drone technology that just might provide the best model for making the economics work.

As Mark Moore, chief technologist for on-demand ‎mobility at NASA’s Langley Research Center observed during a presentation at the recent SAE AeroTech Congress and Exhibition in Seattle, “Uber could provide a true door-to-door system. It’s hard to beat that economic model.”

Moore’s presentation was part of a status report on “flying cars,” also known as roadable aircraft, hybrid air systems, or air taxis.

Moore and his colleagues analyzed scenarios focused on Silicon Valley and extending from Oakland to San Jose. In this environment, air taxis could realistically match an Uber benchmark of $1.50 per mile traveled at an average ground-speed travel rate of 34 miles per hour for urban areas. While that still sounds slow, it equates to a 250 percent improvement over the average Silicon Valley rush-hour travel speed.

For longer trips, passengers will benefit from cruising at 120 to 200 miles per hour or more once the vehicle reaches an altitude of 2,500 to 5,500 feet.

How would this revolutionary system actually work? Here are seven key assumptions:

  1. The study assumes the development of a new kind of vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, powered by electrically driven propellers. This so-called “distributed electric propulsion” (DEP) technology is already being prototyped as part of NASA’s LEAPTech initiative. It’s also being explored by an assortment of commercial ventures...

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