Flying taxis will likely never be cheaper than ground-based transportation. Still, Reuter hopes they will eventually be affordable for most people. “We see this as something that is a available to everyone, not just to a privileged few,” he says.
And Volocopter isn’t the only firm racing to put taxis in the sky. Uber hopes to begin testing air taxis in Dubai (which aims to be a global leader in futuristic technologies of all sorts) and the Dallas-Fort Worth area by 2020. Airbus is also developing air taxis. But before we’re all on board with the whole idea, aviation authorities must consider how numerous taxis can operate within a given area, and how to keep everyone safe as the cabs fly above urban landscapes filled with buildings and people.
The Volocopter’s key components, from propellers to electronics, have backups so if any piece fails the vehicle can still fly, Reuter says. Still, there are concerns that hackers might be able to take control of air taxis, diverting them and possibly causing them to crash, says John Robbins, an associate professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Being battery-powered limits how long air taxis can stay aloft. And Volocopters wouldn’t fly in poor weather and, as currently configured, can ferry only about 350 pounds.
Robbins isn’t sure how long it will take until air taxis are soaring through cities around the world, but he looks forward to that day. “It would be fantastic to have this type of opportunity, it would be [like] personal helicopter rides every time you went anywhere,” he says.
Eventually, air taxis could ease congestion on the streets below and give people a new perspective on their cities. As Robbins puts it, “I can see them having windows all the way around, and you getting a 360-degree view of the world around you.”