Almost every urban science fiction involves a hovercraft of some sort that has replaced cars as the main mode of transport. Hoverboards being the most popular led to an influx of inventors on Kickstarter in 2014, attempting to make what essentially looks and functions like a floating skateboard. Unfortunately, many of these never took off and fans of the concept were left with what has been redefined as a hoverboard: a skateboard with two wheels. Even that caught fire and burned, resulting in a ban from certain airlines.
However, even those setbacks have not dimmed the prospects of one day achieving levitating transportation. When Uber announced its intentions with NASA back in 2016, it sounded much more plausible than a levitating hoverboard due to the parties involved in the project. The federal American agency will be responsible for laying the groundwork needed to regulate air traffic and flight paths along with helping develop the VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircrafts.
This has generated interest amongst the aviation industry, with companies that want to be part of Uber’s exciting new vision developing VTOL aircrafts faster than ever. One that stands out is Carter Aviation Technologies and their partner, Mooney. They have begun developing vehicles which are capable of holding up to six passengers. The CEO, Jay Carter, has drawn attention to its patented “slowed rotor compound design” that allows it to cruise at 175 mph and hovers much efficiently. The vehicle also includes a high-inertia main rotor which is more or less a safety net that provides directional control in event of an emergency.
The only existing VTOL aircrafts available at this point are helicopters which, aside from being expensive to produce, are also both inefficient and impractical as air taxis due to the noise it makes and the amount of pollution it emits.
It is stated on Uber’s website that their air taxis will be responsible for “cleaner air around the world” as it will be using electric propulsion (similar to those of camera drones) so as to have “zero operational emissions”. Other benefits of their new innovation include “quicker daily commutes” and “less traffic congestion”.
They also gave assurances that the VTOL aircraft would be no noisier than “existing background noise” and that it would be safer than a helicopter, which depends on one major propeller to stay in the air and another to direct it.
It is estimated that UberAir will be ready for public use in 2020. They will first start with select cities that suffer from major traffic congestion as the idea was inspired by the fact that those who have a long commute to work oftentimes suffer from higher blood pressure due to the lack of personal time with family, friends and self. The most affected cities in the world include Dubai, Dallas, Los Angeles which are top three on their list of cities which UberAIR will first make their launch.
UberAIR will be constructing Skyports on the roofs of buildings such as offices and district malls, cutting down commute time by 60% (based on rush hour traffic from LAX to the Staples Centre). They are also hoping to make fares affordable; similar to the prices of a ride in an UberX of equal distance. In effect, privately owned cars will no longer be a necessity which will minimize its environmental impact.
Instead, commuters will take an Uber to the nearest Skyport, board a VTOL aircraft which will drop them at the nearest Skyport to their destination where they can take another Uber or walk the distance. They are currently planning to build twenty Skyports in LA.
Uber, which has also been manufacturing self-driving cars, made headlines in March when a pedestrian was killed by one. While there are concerns over how flying taxis will take off when self driving cars, having been in the works for over a decade, are yet to become a safe and practical reality.
Although, those fears might be a little more than unnecessary, as there are markedly different. Self driving cars have to follow a grid of roads which are shared with other drivers, pedestrians and riddled with potholes, turnings, traffic lights and other such obstructions or challenges that prevent it from getting directly from one destination to the next without multiple systems in place.
While there are sure to be challenges with the VTOL aircrafts, such as weather, the theory is that an automated drone taxi will have a pre-determined flight route which will not interlap with other flight paths as flying is two dimensional rather than one which is what limits autocars on the ground. This means that one could potentially use a route of higher altitude when it is detected that another craft has taken the lower route. Furthermore, the skies are not littered with obstructions as road systems are, but they might have to fight with recreational drones or birds for airspace when they are coming in for a landing.
While it is possible to create an airspace safe from drones with regulations and laws, they must figure out a way to deter birds from flying through one of their propellers and damaging it. However, this might prove to be one of the easier challenges as there are current inventions which might be adopted.
Regardless of the potential hazards and regulatory setbacks they may face, nobody wants to be left behind in what is thought to be an inevitable future, giving way to giant corporations and technology developers either building automated cars, flying cars or VTOL aircrafts. Google has managed to keep their VTOL project under wraps until it was discovered that they were running flight tests in New Zealand.
When comes the success of automated cars and pilot free VTOL aircrafts, it will be a matter of time until ownership of vehicles become a thing of the past or perhaps part of a hobbyist’s collection. For the time being, the world will be waiting with bated breath.
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