Flying cars are in the news. Almost a dozen businesses, including some big names with deep pockets, are in competition to bring out the first flying car. This includes Airbus (EPA:AIR), Terrafugia of Massachusetts, Moller International, Xplorair, and the Dutch business PAL-V, among others.
But even as we are waiting for the first flying car to come out, analysts are saying there is a high chance passenger drones may make it before them. That’s because, self-piloting quadcopters make more sense than a flying automobile or personal airplane. We may soon have self-flying drones that are big enough to carry commuters around town. In fact, many start-ups are already working on these “passenger drones”.
These drones can shrink commute time drastically, bringing it down from hours to minutes. Besides, they will also solve the city congestion problem and reduce pollution.
The Problem With Flying Cars, and the Solution
However, there are still logistics and safety concerns. With flying cars, the average commuter will have to first train to get a pilot’s license, which is quite impractical. Passenger drones, on the other hand, will operate autonomously. So there is no question of getting a pilot’s license to fly these vehicles/
Last month, the start-up from China, EHANG announced they will launch a passenger drone service in Dubai in July. Last October, Uber also announced their Elevate program for urban air transportation. Uber also said they will support businesses that are building vehicles like the EHANG184. They went a step ahead by hiring Mark Moore, an aircraft engineer at NASA. Mark is a pioneer in designing VTOL or aircrafts vertical takeoff and landing.
Many other businesses are working on passenger drones. Silicon Valley start-ups Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero are both backed by Larry Page of Google. There is also The California-based Joby Aviation.
There Are Challenges
Safety is still a big concern. Advanced artificial intelligence is required to fly many of these drones without crashing. Sanjiv Singh, a robotics researcher at the Carnegie Mellon University and CEO of Near Earth Autonomy asks, “What would a drone do if a landing area suddenly became unavailable”? His startup is developing intelligent flight systems.
However, unmanned cargo drones are already operational. Their use will surely grow in the coming years. Many experts are optimistic that one day, most of the challenges will be solved and the passenger drones will take off big time.