Imagine the scene: you look up from the crowded pavement of your metropolitan home and instead of seeing the occasional plane or helicopter, you see a swift, whispering sound of vehicles darting back and forth across the sky. This is not a scene from a science fiction film, but a vision of a future where air taxis and flying vehicles play an important role in public transport. But what will it take for them to become widespread ?
Advanced battery technologies
One of the main obstacles to the widespread uptake of electric air taxis is the current state of battery technology. At present, lithium-ion batteries, although remarkable, are simply not efficient enough to enable long-range, fast-charging air transport. We need more advanced energy storage solutions.
Solid-state batteries – a type of battery where the usual liquid electrolyte is replaced by a solid – could potentially provide the increased energy density (the amount of energy stored in a given system or unit volume) and fast charging times needed for air taxis.
However, these batteries are still in the early stages of commercial development. Further development and earlier commercialisation of these batteries would make a big difference.
Autonomous navigation systems
While having a human pilot for each air taxi may seem like the simplest solution, it is far from the most efficient. Autonomous navigation systems driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can significantly increase the scalability of air taxi services by reducing the reliance on human pilots.
Moreover, these systems would need to handle complex and dynamic environments in an agile, safe and efficient manner. This includes coping with other air taxis, air traffic control systems, unpredictable weather and obstacle avoidance, while also ensuring passenger comfort and on-time arrival.
Air taxis would need a unique infrastructure – not just the usual airports. Vertiports (vertically oriented ports), special landing and take-off platforms for VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) taxis should be built.
These vertiports would need to be strategically placed in the urban landscape, requiring a major rethink of urban planning processes.
A key element in ensuring public acceptance of air taxis would be to guarantee safety. Existing safety protocols should be built upon and further developed to address the increased traffic and specific risks posed by air taxis. This includes developing new safety standards and regulations for the design, operation and maintenance of air taxis.
Noise abatement technologies
Noise pollution is a critical concern for city residents. Therefore, technological innovation should also target noise reduction in order to make air taxis an acceptable means of public transport. This could include the development of electric propulsion systems, which already have the advantage of being quieter than conventional internal combustion engines, or the design of air structures that reduce the noise generated by airflow.
One compelling aspect of this future is the potential for improved sustainability. With the right technologies, such as carbon-neutral electric propulsion and the use of renewable energy sources for charging stations, air taxis can make a positive contribution to the ongoing fight against climate change.
The road to a future where air taxis and flying vehicles are an integral part of our public transport system is not easy. It requires significant progress in a number of technological areas. From energy storage to autonomous navigation, safety considerations, noise reduction and sustainability efforts, each development is a piece of the puzzle that will bring us closer to this new dawn of transport.
We should support this innovation, not just because of the lure of a sci-fi future, but also because it has the real potential to revolutionise our commute, making it faster, safer and more sustainable. The horizon is clear; it’s time to take off.