How feasible will the Air-Taxi business model be in the coming decade?
Along with drones and autonomous e-vehicles, there is parallel research into autonomous electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVOTL) aircraft. We see automobile companies joining hands with startups developing air taxis, flying motorbikes, commercial jetpacks, etc.
What’s happening in terms of technology?
- Electrification – Like electric cars, aerial cars need better motors, electric storage, better batteries, and distribution systems.
- Software – AI/ML and advanced software algorithms contribute to the autonomous ground and air vehicle roadmap.
- Connectivity – Good connectivity like ground cars will enable drivers to communicate, manage, and fly vehicles from anywhere remotely.
- Computer vision – High-performance onboard image processing performed with a neural network enables aerial vehicles to detect and classify obstacles and track objects.
- Sensor and analytics – They collect data like visual, environmental quality, and positioning. The data is fed to machine models to determine responses and for post-flight analysis.
However, research into cars is not enough. Unlike cars that take you from point A to B, aerial vehicles will need infrastructure.
- Vertiports and vertistops to facilitate landings and take-offs, including boarding and deboarding points for passengers.
- Receiving vessels like lockers or other storage facilities to deliver packages.
- Charging stations and docks at heliports and vertistops.
As of now, public agencies are investing in drone use cases. But there is ongoing research into integrating aerial vehicle management into the existing air-traffic management system. For this to happen, companies must begin plans to design, obtain space, and construct infrastructure and avoid holding back until air mobility solutions hit the market.
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that do not fly upwards of 400 feet above ground could use traditional aviation’s air traffic management system. Drones traveling longer distances require unmanned traffic management (UTM), radar systems, beacons, flight-management services, communication systems, and servers to coordinate, organize, and manage UAS traffic. Investments into UTM as of 2021 are still in their infancy.
In the future, UAS and eVTOLs must interact with various competing UTMs when traveling to different areas. So, stakeholders must ensure interoperability and communicability of UTM systems and with air traffic management.
What’s next for stakeholders?
Companies like Ford, Daimler, and Volkswagen are helming investments into startups working on aerial vehicles. But there is no thought given to infrastructure. Will they need separate buildings to house vertiports, or will they retrofit existing infrastructure?
Each vertiport will cost between USD 2 Mn to USD 200 Mn, depending on features, size, no. of vehicles accommodated, location, and size. A metropolitan area will need a minimum of 100 vertiports/stops. Just like the subway and suburban infrastructure, it warrants the participation of the local, state, and federal agencies.
The stakeholders will integrate their plans and goals with the broader strategy and reduce commuting times or pollution. Government officials must collaborate with private companies, UTM developers, and citizen interest groups to build interest among the public.
Additionally, multiple companies developing different technologies and the government must collaborate to define and create technical standards to ensure safety and reliability.
Despite the size of investments and the scale of operations, the prospect of air mobility is exciting. It could present interesting opportunities to automotive players, governments, investors, and private equity funds.
Draup is a sales intelligence platform that provides actionable insights of key auto players in the race for air mobility solutions with information on product/service requirements. Service providers can use these signals to develop niche sales solutions to help auto players fulfill their intentions.
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