Coming Soon: Robo-Air Taxis

Amazon is threatening to fill the skies with drone aircraft delivering urgent packages to doorstops. UPS has begun making deliveries to hospitals of drugs or other items that really are, in fact, urgent. What’s next, drone taxicabs?

Of course, the answer is Yes, drone taxis.

Amongst the wheat fields and wide-open spaces of eastern Oregon, a single-seat drone air taxi has completed more than a hundred test flights. Designed by Airbus, its eight rotors powered by electricity, the test craft has not yet carried a passenger or pilot. It is not controlled by a pilot on the ground; each flight is programmed into the drone’s software.
The prototype, named “Vahana” after Hindu flying carpets, can fly for twenty minutes and has a range of about thirty miles. After a vertical take-off it has a cruising speed of one-hundred miles-per-hour. Batteries are about forty percent of the craft’s weight. Vahana’s projected use is to carry passengers over congested cities. Airbus is also testing a larger robo-air taxi in Europe.

Wanting not to be outdone by Airbus, Boeing, through a subsidiary, is testing a two-passenger robo-air taxi. A test flight with no passengers crashed on the runway at the Manassas, Virginia airport in June. But let’s not dwell on Boeing and crashes.

How soon can we be transported through the air in driverless taxicabs? Pendleton High students on a field trip said they were ready to go right now. Regulation is far behind the technology, though. The FAA has yet to determine how it will certify the aircraft. Cities will certainly want to regulate who’s flying people above them.

The city of Pendleton, who owns the airport, is very happy. Competition in this emerging technology has resulted in an assortment of aerospace companies leasing all available hangar space at the airfield. The industry promoted its recent symposium held in Pendleton: “This is where Let’r Buck meets Let’r Fly!”

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