The weather can cross self-driving air taxis

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“The Flying Car – When They Arrive and Get Off Finally” was perhaps the most exciting panel discussion of the entire CES on Wednesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where the hottest topics this year are undoubtedly the transformation of private and public transportation, freight distribution systems, self-driving vehicles, air taxis, drones, appearance, slow spread. We’re also there at the world’s largest consumer electronics show, so we were able to follow the roundtable live.

The conversation was moderated by Doug Newcomb, an industry analyst, and Massimo Martinotti, head of mobility solutions at Italdesign, Stacey Randecker, host of “The Flying Car Show” on KGO-810 radio in San Francisco, and Jeff Warra, an automotive technology expert. where is the development of flying cars, who are the pioneers and what are working in the industry, what visions for the future can we talk about in relation to this new form of transport.

Where is my flying car already promised ?

Doug Newcomb opened with this classic meme, nailing it as a question to the three experts. “It’s not at all a trivial task to build a flying car,” said Jeff Warra, who said no one could come to CES by air taxi yet because only big aircraft manufacturers currently understand this task, they would be needed to create a working system.

Stacey Randecker recalled that in the U.S., for example, in a number of major cities, electric scooters have become widespread in recent years that can be rented, used, and then left on the sidewalk by the roadside app. “But a good few-tonne flying structure is a completely different category than a scooter. Building such a system requires the cooperation of many manufacturers, and cities also have to embrace the novelty, landing sites and charging points, without which things are impossible.”

QP | Quality Placement

“It’s the most complex urban transportation system possible, it takes time to build,” Massimo Martinotti began, explaining why we don’t travel to our workplaces yet like the Jetson family. Many don’t think about it, but the weather is one of the most critical factors. “It’s an operating altitude from zero to a thousand meters, a flight range, the weather in this altitude zone is the most unpredictable.”

According to Martinotti, the other main obstacle is that the infrastructure is not yet fully developed: “thousands, tens of thousands of parking spaces would be needed.” According to the Italian expert, air taxis are not even socially acceptable, many people are afraid of possible accidents. And then there’s the noise: “helicopters, for example, are great urban vehicles, but they’re terribly noisy, the quiet electric drive, the multi-rotor solution may be the answer.”

Before the big jump

“But still, when can a flying car be a reality? What does the timeline look like now?” Doug Newcomb asked. “I know a lot of manufacturers are working on it, but the target dates are pretty much the same,” Stacey Randecker said. “The first test flights could start around 2020-2021 and the first services will start around 2023. But I don’t know if those deadlines will be met. Maybe 2023 is the more realistic date.”

Warra and Martinotti agreed on the need for a company that breaks the path – and Uber seems to be the best fit for that now. Martinotti added that although there are young, ambitious companies in China, he believes it will take at least 15-20 years for the air car system to start somewhere in the world. “It is a question of whether it will solve the problems of urban transport, whether it will alleviate, eliminate the huge and continuous congestion. I think a thousand such vehicles per city should have a noticeable impact on transport.

“Let me mention one more thing to consider: it would be worthwhile to create entertainment centers, kind of flying amusement parks, where you could fly such air taxis in a protected airspace, in a limited environment. These could pave the way, change people’s attitudes,” added Massimo Martinotti. “But it also requires an extremely effective marketing strategy, because what lies ahead is one of the biggest steps in the development of human technology.”

Jeff Warra dissected the issue of weather a bit, “it’s really going to be a whole new mode of transportation, but weather is really the biggest uncertainty in it, until the developers do something about it, you can’t take the first steps. Low altitude flight it is the biggest risk factor in aviation, even for experienced airlines, it is the biggest safety challenge. ” The interlocutors all agreed on the need for an infrastructure that does not yet exist today that allows for a real-time response to suddenly changing, dangerous weather situations.

What do cities need?

“There are opinions that cities are the worst possible places to introduce this kind of technology,” Doug Newcomb raised. Randecker and Warra say there is some basis for this, but in the first round, air taxis can start in big cities where large bodies of water have to be bridged in traffic. They both cited their own residences as an example, with Randecker referring to the bay separating parts of San Francisco and Warra mentioning Lake Michigen as easy and safe first routes for air taxis. Whether you will be able to go further than this will be obscured in the near future.

Massimo Martinotti, on the other hand, believed that cities would be ideal primary markets for this technology. As pointed out in Europe, the ban on cars in the city center is currently the trend, while many live in the inner, upscale districts of big cities. So there is a need for a pleasant lifestyle, but also for mobility – air taxis can be the perfect answer to this controversial situation.

“Can the vision of the Jetson family be realized?” Newcomb asked. According to Martinotti, there is a chance for it, and here at CES you can also see the first swallow, the helicopter manufacturer Bell’s tipping rotor hexacopter. The Italian expert also gave a short presentation on possible technological solutions. According to him, there are three types of aircraft that can take off from a place:

multi-rotor helicopters, capable of flying at only 70-120 km / h and only within a city in a relatively narrow area, but these are the fastest to be licensed, mixed-use aircraft (rotor and propeller aircraft) can fly at 150-200 km / h, both within and between cities, but their development is slower and their licensing is more complicated, tipper rotors, of which Bell is a great expert, can fly up to 300 km / h, both within and between cities, but they are the slowest to be licensed.

These future flying structures must be fundamentally capable of performing two different tasks: cargo and passenger transport. Martinotti’s company, Italdesign, presented its modular drone taxi at the Geneva Motor Show two years ago and is constantly working on it in partnership with Airbus and Audi. The modular air taxi, called pop.up, consists of three parts: a unit moving on ground wheels, a multi-rotor self-guided air module, and a passive capsule that can be connected to both. The passenger calls the modular taxi via an app and the system decides on the mode of service based on the available traffic and location data. All this with the system of networked machines, artificial intelligence, facial recognition algorithm.

According to Martinotti, the implementation of urban aviation by flying taxis “is possible in the intermodal transport systems of the future, in which the traveler can switch seamlessly between vehicles, depending on the day, the time of year, the weather conditions, alone or in groups, with luggage or without traveling and so on. “

“The Bell Nexus has already been discussed here, which the manufacturer says could be on the market by the mid-2000s. What other players are there in this trend now?”

Newcomb asked. “In addition to Airbus, Daimler in Germany and Embraer in Brazil and three other big companies are working on the development and are already working with Uber. Uber is doing well anyway, he doesn’t want to build hardware, but his best people are working on the system, creating an ideal operating environment while putting pressure on manufacturers to develop specific technology, ”explained Stacey Randecker, who says there are small and enthusiastic companies, startups, but they can’t kick the ball. Agreeing with this, Jeff Warra said that air taxi development is not a field for cowards, nor do startups have much to gain in terms of hardware.

Martinotti could only respond to this: “yes, without Airbus we would not be able to do it, we need experienced big aircraft manufacturers. Car manufacturers also need to get in. Daimler, for example, is already on this path. they are also more proficient and routine in cooperation with the authorities, even if a small startup has a great idea, it will bleed very soon in the shredder of legislation and aviation safety regulations. “

Stacey Randecker, however, took on the role of startups a little better. “California startups have user experience and software development in their genes, they’re routine there. Aircraft manufacturers have the strength to work with metal, it has to be left to them. They have to share the tasks.” Jeff Warra nodded strongly, “partnership, partnership, partnership – the hungry startup mentality must be combined with manufacturing experience.”

The battery is a bottleneck

“But what’s the best propulsion? Electric? Liquid fossil fuel?” Newcomb shifted to another topic.

“It’s clearly electric. It’s either a fuel cell or a battery, but the issue of air pollution is unavoidable, as is noise,” Martinotti said. “Internal combustion engines are terribly loud, while a multi-rotor electric drone is much quieter. In addition, the issue of batteries is also critical: they need to be light and high capacity, i.e. high energy density. A number of companies are already working on this, but there is still a long way to go.”

Stacey Randecker also agreed that electric propulsion should be important for clean operation. That’s why he felt a little shocked to learn that the Bell Nexus would be hybrid-powered (electric and gas turbine). “How the hell could that be? Then I asked one of their engineers who enlightened me: the current batteries aren’t fit for the job yet. But if they don’t want to waste time, the prototype has to be built on a hybrid because As soon as reliable and light enough high-capacity battery technology becomes available, we can switch completely to electricity. “

Finally, they went around an extremely exciting question: will pilots be needed or will air taxis be self-driving. All three unanimously agreed that only the latter could be a reality, it is inconceivable that each air taxi would have a separate pilot. “It can only be autonomous, otherwise tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of new pilots would be needed, which is impossible.

“An interesting aspect of this is how much people will trust unmanned aerial vehicles,” the radio station suggested. “Even though flying is the safest mode of transport with the highest safety standards, if an air accident causes passengers to die, it’s always a cover story, while hundreds of thousands die every day in a car accident around the world, which in turn doesn’t hit the stimulus threshold. “

That’s right. If blood is flowing, it is also flowing from the tap

Jeff Warra said. “The accidents of Tesla are excellent examples of this: if something happens to a Tesla, especially in self-driving mode, it’s the news everywhere.”

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