The air taxi revolution that has been taking shape in recent years could, in the next few decades, bring us very close to the world long imagined by science fiction writers and filmmakers, where the skies of cities are filled with a wide variety of passenger vehicles. But as the era of the ‘flying car’ takes shape before our eyes, it may have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, as Volocopter, Lilium, Airbus and other companies have started to unveil their plans, it has become increasingly clear that the serious manufacturers are all thinking of ride-sharing services, so-called air taxis, which will not be available for purchase like a conventional car.
If you’ve always wished that you could have a flying car like this parked in your garage instead of your own car, you may have seen a glimmer of hope in recent days, as two concepts have been revealed that could bring the era of not only rentable but ownable air taxis into the near future – although not so much for cheaper cars as for Bentley or Rolls-Royce owners.
Of the two eVTOL (i.e. electrically powered, local take-off and landing) multicopters, the Jetson One is based on a much simpler concept, which relates to the more serious air taxis in much the same way that, say, an Ariel Atom relates to a conventional car. Developed by the Swedish company Jetson, the air taxi is little more than a roll cage made of carbon fibre and aluminium, with two or three propellers at the front and two at the back, making a total of eight propellers, just like a drone. The 118-horsepower vehicle has a top speed of 102 km/h and, according to the video released, will be perfectly suited to give owners the thrill of flight.
The Jetson One will be less practical for urban transport, as according to the factory, a person weighing 85 kilograms will only be able to fly it for about 20 minutes at a time, and it is not yet clear exactly where and under what conditions it will be used. Although the Jetson One takes up little more space than a motorbike thanks to its folding rotor arms and can land on any flat surface, it seems unlikely that it will be able to fly freely over cities, but even if it does, it will require at least a small aircraft pilot’s licence.
The manufacturer has placed great emphasis on safety, which is ensured by a number of features in addition to the roll cage: the multicopter has a triple redundant on-board computer that allows the aircraft to automatically hover or land in one place if the pilot releases the stick. The One also features LIDAR, familiar from self-driving cars, which allows the machine to map its surroundings and automatically avoid obstacles. According to Jetson, the eVTOL will also remain operational even if one of its engines fails, and is equipped with a parachute in case of an emergency.
The Jetson One will start to be delivered to customers next year, who will receive a semi-assembled machine, so the concept is a bit similar to the Tetra Mk-5, which customers have to assemble at home, like kit planes. However, those who order the $92,000 aircraft now will have plenty of time to prepare for the technical challenges, as the 12 Jetson One aircraft scheduled for 2022 have already been reserved for $22,000 each, so the earliest that new customers will be able to get their own air taxi is 2023.
While Jetson’s plane will mainly be used for fun, Air One is much closer to a “traditional” air taxi, as the two-seater eVTOL designed by the Israeli startup can fly at speeds of up to 250 km/h and has a range of up to 180 kilometres. The eight rotors that power Air One are here again located at the front and back of the plane, and as the wings can be folded up, the vehicle takes up about the same space as a normal car.
Like other manufacturers, Air has of course put a lot of effort into ensuring that their aircraft is safe for everyone to fly, and in the case of Air One, this is made possible by software solutions that manage navigation and complex tasks, as well as an artificial intelligence-based safety system that checks from time to time that the functions of the aircraft are working properly.
Like the Jetson One, the Air One is available for pre-order now, but customers will certainly have to wait longer, as the company is still testing the prototype and will also need to obtain G1 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is essential before an aircraft can be used for commercial purposes. The company will not announce the final price of the aircraft until early next year, but based on other air taxis, it is almost certain to be in the six figures in dollar terms.