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Expensive News – An electric, flying autonomous Uber: Volocopter makes its first test flight

Expensive News –
An electric, flying autonomous Uber: Volocopter makes its first test flight

AN ELECTRIC, FLYING AUTONOMOUS UBER: VOLOCOPTER MAKES ITS FIRST TEST FLIGHT

Are you ready for the autonomous passenger drone future?

Jet packs and flying cars are finally back on the drawing boards of inventors, and they frankly sound more exciting than the lazy autonomous future that automakers are promising us at the moment. Several startups are taking different approaches to small vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, and a number are already conducting full-scale tests — unmanned for now.

One such flying-car-future hopeful is the German Volocopter, which recently carried out an unmanned test of its prototype craft in Dubai. Powered by batteries, the Volocopter is basically a scaled-up passenger drone with a helicopter-like cockpit for two occupants and 18 separate propellers arranged around an overhead hoop. The craft’s two-hour charging time gives it a 30-minute flight time at a forward cruising speed of about 30 mph and a maximum speed just shy of 60 mph. The craft itself is smaller and lighter than most helicopters and has a smaller footprint.During the test flight in Dubai, the Volocopter took off, reached a height of about 650 feet and hovered around the area for about five minutes. The company says that production versions will fly autonomously along point-to-point routes that will be selectable by passengers who will be able to summon the craft via an app. This means that these drone craft will not have a pilot, per se — which certainly cuts down on labor costs — and will be able to operate along a network of specially designed heliports. The ultimate goal of the company is to offer an Uber-like flying car experience, albeit without pilots — though if Uber’s autonomous research is anything to go by, that’s Uber’s goal as well.

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While the VTOL tech behind the Volocopter seems perfectly realistic, we’re a little more skeptical about the company’s plans for autonomous operation given where autonomous driving tech is at the moment. Yes, there are fewer obstacles in the air, but they including serious ones like power lines, and even the most modern of helicopters still require a lot of skilled human decision-making — the practical differences between an electric VTOL craft that uses many small rotors and a classic helo are few.

Volocopter isn’t the only one developing new types of electric VTOL craft; Lilium tested its two-seat e-VTOL Eagle craft just a few months ago, a plane/VTOL hybrid that uses small jets to take off vertically and then transitions to winged forward flight. The Eagle prototype has a top speed of 186 mph and promises around 190 miles of range on a full charge.

The world has been ready for a flying car future for a while and is certainly ready for an electric car future. We’re just not sure if the world is ready for an autonomous electric flying car future quite yet.

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