As far back as 1923, futurists were envisioning flying cars over American cities solving the traffic problem many large cities currently face. If Matt Chansen gets his way, we could be one step closer to those futuristic predictions. Only that it won’t be cars flying over the cities. Instead it will be drones that will fly passengers around.
This is what LIFT Aircraft, a startup company from which Matt Chansen is Chief Executive. Right now, passengers can only enjoy short flights which last around 15 minutes on one of the companies newest drones called the Hexa. For around $250, anyone can enjoy a flight across a small lake in Austin, Texas. The Hexa is an electric-powered drone designed to reach speeds of up to 60mph. It weighs under 450 pounds, has motors, batteries and 18 sets of propellers and is designed to carry one person with a maximum weight of 250 pounds. The aircraft is controlled by a joystick and has an onboard computer which stabilizes it during flight.
The aircraft can take off and land vertically just like a helicopter. It also has the ability to hover and even has built in air-cushioned floats. This means that the aircraft is capable of landing on water if necessary. Because the Hexa carries only one person at a time, the passenger has to be able to pilot the craft. LIFT has a training program for customers to learn how to fly the Hexa. This training includes watching safety videos, spending around an hour in a virtual reality flight simulator.
In case of an emergency, experienced flight controllers on the ground can take control of the aircraft and pilot it remotely. The Hexa is also programmed to automatically return to its launch pad as soon as the battery begins running low. As of now, Hexa’s flights are targeted towards recreational users. This is because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet cleared drones for passenger transportation. According to Chansen, who is an aerospace engineer who used to work with Boeing, said that the process to get approval from the FAA could take years. This is because the FAA and the general public will first need to be convinced about the safety of transporting people by drone. Numerous companies are already positioning themselves for the opportunities that passenger carrying drones could offer. Established brands like Airbus and Volocopter are working on the development of these drones. Even Uber is getting involved.
And it is not just the US which is exploring the possibility of drone taxis. Some countries seem to be way ahead. One country which is at the fore front of drone transportation is the United Arab Emirates. In November 2018, Dubai announced that its police had started training with a flying drone motorcycle. The Hoverbike, built by California-base Hoversuf, is a vertical take-off and landing vehicle powered by drone technology. The Dubai Police announced that they intend to deploy the flying drone motorcycles in 2020.
Ultimately, the next step in the evolution of drones will be transporting people. The technology has not only been developed but is also being tested for both recreational use and police work. It is just a matter of time before commuters can charter drones to fly them quickly to their destination.