Do you know what you’re doing three years from now? If so, you can book a ride in one of the world’s first flying taxis.
Air taxis might not be a reality yet, but they will be in the near future. Companies of all sizes are working on their own prototypes for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) crafts that can be used as flying taxis.
One of them is Volocopter. Its 18-rotor electric aircraft looks like a giant drone. Recently, the startup started taking reservations for flights in the futuristic craft. The only catch is that the flights won’t happen until 2023 at the earliest.
To say that booking rides three years out is excessive would be an understatement. However, Volocopter’s move to start accepting reservations is more of a publicity stunt than anything. The startup wants to get its name out there and get people excited about the prospect of flying taxis.
Just 1,000 presale reservations are available and they’ll only be open for a limited time. Volocopter is charging $355, but you can reserve a spot with a 10 percent deposit. Each flight will last about 15 minutes.
Where the ride will take place remains a mystery. Volocopter hasn’t committed to a location for its test flights just yet. However, the startup has previously completed tests in Singapore, Helsinki, Dubai, and Bruchsal, Germany (its headquarters). This means that future flights will likely be in one of these cities.
The date of the tests also remains up in the air—no pun intended. Volocopter says that they will take place “within 12 months” of the company’s commercial launch. It currently projects that to occur within “2-3 years” according to a spokesperson.
“While the final certification for air taxis is still pending, we do have a detailed realistic timeline to launch commercial VoloCity flights in the next 2-3 years,” the statement reads.
Volocopter’s flagship craft is only able to carry one passenger per time in its egg-shaped capsule. Rather than ferrying large volumes of people from central destinations like airports and stadiums, the company will focus on local point-to-point transport.
Defying the Odds
Although its ambitions are certainly futuristic, Volocopter has some significant backing. The startup raised $55.3 million last year in a round led by Geely—the parent company of Volvo Cars. Other noteworthy investors include Intel and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
Electric flight is a very difficult feat to accomplish. Powering numerous rotors requires a great deal of power and batteries are only able to hold so much without weighing the craft down. Volocopter is currently focusing on flights that are 30 minutes or less and within a 17-mile radius.
Experts predict that it will be years or even decades before battery technology improves enough to support long-range electric flight. Until then, the batteries on Volocopter’s prototype craft can be quickly swapped out to boost its range.
Reaching a point of commercial availability will be a major milestone for the company. Hopefully its plans for a launch in 2-3 years stay on track. While that timeline is very well possible given the advances we’ve seen so far, it also wouldn’t be surprising if it is delayed.