Deborah is a computer-generated human who needs to get from the Hotel de Anza in San Jose to Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, post haste. Traffic on the 101 is a nightmare, so rather than spending hours in traffic, she whips out her smartphone and hails an electric, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft through Vahana, the on-demand, aviation project. Total fare: $77. Total flight time: 18 minutes.
This is the future envisioned by Airbus, which operates Vahana through its A³ subsidiary. For almost a year now, the aeronautics giant has been working on developing a fleet of electric, autonomous, multirotor VTOL vehicles that can be used to fly from rooftop to rooftop in dense cities where traffic is often at a standstill. And next week, A³ will be showing off this vision at the Paris Air Show in an effort to get aviation nerds excited about the future of flying taxis.
(An important note: I know a lot of publications have taken to calling these aircraft “flying cars” because clickbait. But for a number of reasons that I’ve outline here, I won’t be using that nomenclature. It’s dumb.)
The concept video produced by A³ is pretty consistent with the visions of others that are developing their own VTOL projects, like Uber and Google co-founder Larry Page. Thanks to improvements in battery technology and artificial intelligence, technologists predict we’re on the cusp of a revolution in urban aviation. The skies above our cities are about to become abuzz with flying taxis.
And everyone from electric vehicle charging companies to real estate firms are jumping on the flying bandwagon. The conventional wisdom is that these VTOL aircraft will likely be deployed in an on-demand, Uber-like capacity, which theoretically will make fares cheap enough so that its not just the 1 percent using it.
Of course, this utopian vision may never come to pass if air safety rules aren’t updated or battery technology fails to improve or riders reject the idea of autonomous, pilotless flights. Personal flying machines have been the dream of futurists for decades, and just because billion-dollar companies like Airbus and Uber are suddenly invested in this vision doesn’t mean we’ll start seeing VTOL buzzing passed our windows anytime soon.