Vehicle Technology

Flying Cars May Be Closer than You Think

This article is based in part on trends outlined in the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® report Five Technology Trends to Watch.

Overview The world of urban air mobility may be coming to life, and sooner than consumers thought, with vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

The burgeoning air taxi industry has continued to evolve and, bolstered by new vehicle technology and the popularity of ride-sharing, may soon spawn a fleet of flying cars hovering above neighborhood streets.

A new kind of aerial vehicle, the vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL), could be the helicopter-drone hybrid that brings the mobility industry to full realization of that possibility.

Ride-sharing giant Uber shared that it intends ultimately to have thousands of VTOLs sharing a city’s airspace.

“Our goal is to make traveling by air as economical as traveling by car,” said Nikhil Goel, head of product at Uber Elevate, the company unit working on VTOL development.


Addressing the Challenges

Morgan Stanley reports that VTOLs could complete four trips in the time required for one car on the ground to finish a single trip. The company projects that the industry’s addressable market could reach $1.5 trillion by 2040.

As innovators in the vehicle tech space work to make that projection a reality, they are addressing some of the challenges that must be overcome before air taxis and VTOLs are ready for use on a mass scale.

EmbraerX, a unit of Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer S.A., is developing an electric-propulsion VTOL (eVTOL) maintenance system named Beacon and an urban air mobility (UAM) air traffic management system for flying taxis.

“Our goal is to make traveling by air as economical as traveling by car."

Nikhil Goel
Head of Product, Uber Elevate

Antonio Campello, president and CEO of EmbraerX, noted that it’s not just about creating the next generation of aircraft. It’s about allowing more aircraft to fly simultaneously while keeping them safely airborne.

Other current limitations include battery technology and energy density, a measure of power needed for a given weight, design and more. VTOLs, meant to be an efficient system for both passenger and cargo transportation, must be sufficiently powered to accommodate meaningful distances without compromising a smooth takeoff and landing.


Cars Fly Solo

Colleagues at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering are working on research tracks for technologies that allow drones to navigate without the aid of GPS, including one that focuses on ways for multiple drones to communicate for collaborative navigation. The technologies and results from such studies could be applied to autonomous VTOLs in the relatively near future.

First looks at air taxis, such as the Bell Nexus that was unveiled at CES 2019, showcases vehicle-to-everything connectivity technology that will enable fully autonomous airborne vehicles in the future.

According to Uber Elevate’s timeline, the first tests of unmanned VTOL aircraft will take place in rural environments next year. Then they’ll move to urban areas before fully launching commercially in 2023.
Although timeframe and price points are still largely estimates and optimistic projections, the potential of urban air mobility presents a business opportunity for major growth in the vehicle tech industry in the coming years.

Learn more in CTA’s Five Technology Trends to Watch.

Take a Deeper Dive

5 Technology Trends to Watch

Each year the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® selects five topics to explore how these promising areas could impact our future. For the 2019 edition, we focus on tech tackling therapy in the digital health space, what is coming next in transportation, the future of food, how facial recognition is impacting the world, and robots that will continue to improve lives.

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