Ride-sharing has disrupted transportation in many cities, and not always for the better. Some surveys show services like Uber and Lyft actually add to the congestion in urban areas, with more cars on the road competing for the same amount of road space.
To solve the problem, many are looking to the skies, essentially air taxis — in 2017. Most famously, Dubai is working with EHang to develop a drone taxi service to take people (and a couple of pieces of luggage) along various fixed routes within the city.
At CES 2018, Bell Helicopter became the first helicopter company to exhibit at CES, debuting its concept of an air taxi. The four-person aircraft is meant to fly people between two points on fixed routes — say from a parking garage to an airport — and, though it can be flown by a pilot, is designed with autonomy in mind.
Bad news first: Bell only showed off a VR simulator of the concept, and it didn’t discuss what propulsion its air taxi would use, although it did say the aircraft would take off and land vertically, similar to the Project Wing drones developed by Alphabet’s X (formerly Google X).
The good news is the simulation was pretty convincing. It first takes you through a possible “vertiport” — in this case, a parking garage where the aircraft can take off from vertically. They do give you a real sense of how these aircrafts could become a reality sometime in the future.
Optimistic? Probably. Compelling? Definitely. That’s probably why Uber is so interested and is partnering with Bell and others to make the vision — an affordable vision, importantly — a reality. When? Sometime if the 2020s, if we’re lucky, and that’s only if a host of problems are solved.