In this post we introduce some of the leading Urban Air Mobility companies who will be making headlines in this decade.
If you’ve seen our previous videos on this subject you’ll know that there are several companies currently flying prototype UAM aircraft, from aerospace giants like Airbus to startups like Opener.
A few years ago there were only a few but just as the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drone industry sprung into life, we are now witnessing a growth spurt in the UAM industry. With the integration of AI and the use of new airframe construction materials, innovative digital system designs, and other new business ideas, UAM looks set to transform the airspace over and between cities in the near future.
There are about 200 companies worldwide who are in the electric aviation market, and while many have set their sights on commercial airline flight many of them are developing the kind of small air taxis that can be easily hailed by city dwellers and business people.
It is estimated that within the next five years eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft will be operating commercially in urban airspace.
According to a report on RolandBerger.com it is estimated that by 2050 “close to 100,000 passenger drones could be on the move worldwide serving as air taxis, airport shuttles and intercity flight services.”
The main obstacle is, as ever with electrically powered vehicles, battery power, but this technology is evolving so it’s only a matter of time.
Additionally, challenges like collision avoidance (of buildings and structures as well as other aircraft), safety during takeoff and landing, and air traffic control are significant but not insurmountable.
Uber Air wants to be offering an air taxi service in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne by 2023. To achieve this they have asked six aircraft companies to come up with an eVTOL aircraft for a pilot and four passengers.
Germany based Volocopter has made headlines due to its aircraft which resembles a large, passenger carrying drone, the all electric Volocopter 2X.
Bell is another heavy investor in eVTOL research and has revealed its Nexus prototype.
Lilium has an eVTOL five-seater aircraft called the Lilium Jet which flew its first test flight in May 2019.
The Opener Blackfly is another UAM aircraft, as is the Hoversurf Formula, the Transcend Air Vy 400, the NFT ASKA, the HopFlyt Venturi, and the XTI Aircraft Company’s TriFan 600, all of which I’ve featured in previous videos in this playlist. Boeing’s NeXt division is forging ahead with PAV research and has flown prototypes.
Airbus A³ has its Vahana, an autonomous eVTOL aircraft with room for one passenger.
Joby Aviation is developing a 5 seat eVTOL electric aircraft.
Kitty Hawk is developing the Cora and the Heaviside air taxis.
Terrafugia, in China, are working on a flying car.
The list of Urban Air Mobility companies is growing and it won’t be long before we see which of them will win the race to provide the first viable services. The key to it all appears to be collaboration, since there are few if any companies that possess all the pieces of the puzzle.
Urban Air Mobility Infrastructure
However, as with any kind of transport infrastructure, sometimes there’s too much emphasis on the needs of cities and other urban areas.
Country dwellers have their own transport needs too so we shouldn’t overlook the need for a Rural Air Mobility infrastructure (as coined by Jeff Miller in an article published on Techcrunch in 2019).
It may be that this is the market that will be best suited to personal aerial vehicles i.e. the flying cars, the piloted eVTOL aircraft, and the autonomous vehicles safely delivering passengers from rural areas into the cities.
Countries with vast open spaces between cities, like the USA, Canada, and Australia, have made routine use of light aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary wing. They are likely to be the early adopters of personal aerial vehicles (PAV) like the PAL-V gyrocopter, and the Terrafugia Transition, or autonomous aerial vehicles (AAV) like the EHang 184.
Meanwhile, the VTOL infrastructure needs to be developed and it may manifest in the form of takeoff and landing areas of various types. Some have suggested a selection, from large scale hubs akin to medium sized airports (but without the lengthy runways of course) to roof-top stations and satellite VTOL points in suburban areas.
So while we can expect to see the first commercial flights in a few cities around the globe soon, it’s likely to be several years if not a decade or more before you’ll be able to hail an air taxi on an app and be flown from city street to an airport several miles away for your onward journey.
But, as we’re experiencing, time flies and these years are likely to pass quickly.