A drone taxi is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed to carry one or more passengers. They are seen as an alternative to congested roads, a way to reach more remote areas and potentially a much faster option than a ground-based vehicle.
Where is it now?
While there are several manufacturers currently working in this field, current market leaders are Ehang, a Chinese company based in Guangzhou. CES 2016 saw them unveil the first commercially produced drone which can capably carry a human passenger. The ‘Ehang 184’ is capable of speeds up to 100kmh and has a flight time of 23 minutes.
Ehang are in negotiation with a number of cities and areas around the world to further test their invention. Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority has publicised its aim to bring a regular drone taxi service using the Ehang 184 into operation, but after two years, the service is not yet up and running.
What’s the hold-up?
On paper it sounds great – you jump in, strap yourself in and input your destination. But there are a number of technical and logistical barriers to the proliferation of drone taxis.
Safety is, of course, a major issue, and sophisticated aerial traffic management systems are required to integrate these flying taxis with other aircraft, especially in urban areas.
Another barrier to proliferation is the noise of the vehicles. While technology is advancing all the time, these vehicles are still loud. More work is needed to bring noise levels down, particularly when taking off and landing in residential areas.
Weight limitations are another key factor, with the Ehang 184 having a weight limit of around 220 pounds. This is about the equivalent of an average person and a small suitcase, and could mean having to weigh your bags, and yourself, before calling your taxi.
While it’s impossible to give an exact timescale, given the speed of innovation and significant commercial interest from companies such as Uber, it’s fair to say your drone taxi will be with you as soon as possible.