Are you ready for a glimpse into the future? I’m talking about real George Jetson stuff: Flying cars that zoom over ground-bound commuters, autonomous taxis, and food and goods that transport themselves to you. Behold, the future of mobility, the science fictional world of tomorrow, the concepts that could only be dreamt of by illustrators and children with minds unencumbered by the constraints of cognitive clutter. The future might be closer than you think.
A recent study put forth by Porsche Consulting, a division of the same high-end auto designer and manufacturer of vehicles famous for their heritage, delves into the subject of its title, “The Future of Vertical Mobility” and speculates about the topic through 2035, which seems like it’s far off, but it’s only 16 years away, barely enough time for a child born today to begin driving.
According to the study, Vertical Mobility will be dominated by the generically named eVTOL craft, or electric Vertical Take Off and Landing. Multirotor craft are the type commonly configured today, as a drone with multiple motors and propellers arranged around the craft. High performance batteries, requiring shorter charging times, will power capable motors managed by high-speed computers. Smaller spacial requirements will allow multiple operations from limited areas like urban rooftops with the possible downside being these locales may become choke points as traffic volume increases.
The report outlines some risks and issues, as expected, regarding a technology that is so far beyond the ordinary, which translates to four basic topics that fall under the eVTOL ecosystem including aircraft, certification and law, social, and infrastructure — involving details like systems and propulsion, regulations, operations, maintenance, noise, safety, security, air traffic control, charging and parking.
The earliest examples of vertical mobility will expand on existing drone or unmanned aerial vehicle missions including surveying and mapping, emergency communication networks, precision agriculture and fertilization, farming and forestry, monitoring, security and defense, emergency transport of organs, medicine, and EMS supplies. This is predicted to be a $34 billion industry employing 21 million units by 2035 and, once established, should enjoy a booming 35 percent annual growth.
Private and commercial eVTOL air taxis could be commonly in service by 2025. Compared to helicopters, eVTOL aircraft are four times quieter, 15 times more reliable, twice as safe and 10 times less expensive.
I mentioned the BlackFly concept in a past column. This single-seat flying car has already flown thousands of miles under varying conditions, proving its viability and now the Elroy has hit the scene.
Elroy is a two-passenger eVTOL craft produced by Astro Aerospace, the only publicly traded company dealing exclusively in flying cars. The prototype Elroy, like the BlackFly, has flown and undergone extensive testing to prove the concept. It has also been accepted into the NASA Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge. According to NASA’s website, UAM is defined as a safe and efficient system for passenger and cargo air transportation in and around an urban area. The purpose of the Grand Challenge is to promote public confidence in UAM safety while capturing the public’s interest in a future many have imagined, or seen on television shows and movies, for decades.
Elroy will have the ability to turn a two-hour trip into a 20-minute flight with multiple redundant safety and control systems. Powered by 16 electrically driven rotors lifting a carbon-constructed passenger pod, pre-orders are slated to be available sometime this year. Astro, as well as over 400 participants, attended a recent NASA sponsored UAM gathering and with worldwide interest, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
The investment house, Morgan Stanley, puts the number at $2.9 trillion in 20 years as confirmed by analysts but even pessimistic estimates put the global market value of eVTOL aircraft at $615 billion, eclipsing Porsche Consulting conservative research estimates.
With these numbers, all the automotive companies are already in the game and most are looking for strong partners in their realm of less expertise. This is where technology giants and modern mobility companies are making their mark, with partnerships forming between the likes of Toyota and Uber and Amazon, Fiat-Chrysler and Google, Honda is with Waymo, BMW has partnered with Intel and Delphi but also with Daimler, parent of competitor Mercedes-Benz, to pool resources rather than risk falling behind, GM has partnered with Lyft, and too many others to list. Aerospace giants including Bell, Boeing, Airbus, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce and more are all ramping up eVTOL projects.
Ready or not, the future is coming faster than most people are aware. At this rate, in 16 years, a driver’s license will be a quaint artifact to today’s newborn.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.