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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As more companies pile into the flying taxi market it’s increasingly likely that you’ll start seeing them appear in cities near you, kickstarting the next transportation revolution.
British engine maker Rolls Royce revealed its plans this week to develop a hybrid electric vehicle, dubbed imaginatively “The flying taxi,” which takes off and lands vertically and could be airborne, perhaps from one of Uber’s new flying taxi stations, within five years.
The UK listed aerospace giant who’s also in the race to develop fully autonomous cargo ships, and electric aircraft, showed off their plans at last weeks Farnborough Airshow as other players, from Airbus and EHang to Volocopter, also rush into the market segment with the latter two already showcasing their designs in the skies above Dubai.
Rolls Royce said it hoped to manufacture a prototype version of the new Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (EVTOL) vehicle within the next 18 months, and said it could potentially take to the skies in the early 2020’s. Initially the flying taxi will seat four or five people with a flying range of 500 miles (805 km) and a top speed of 200 mph.
Introducing the new flying taxi
“In this market we think you’ll see something like this flying within three to five years, and we will demonstrate the system in two years,” said Rob Watson, head of Rolls Royce’s electrical team,
“and at the end of next year we’ll be flight ready,” he told reporters.
The hybrid vehicle, which has so far cost millions of pounds to develop, will at first use a traditional gas turbine engine combined with an electrical system wrapped around it, and the company is also researching an all electric design as well.
“There’s an emerging market for fully electric planes but we believe that you need a level of [performance] that an all electric system can’t provide today,” said Watson. “So for now all electric [flying taxis] are the way to hop around within a city, but if you want to travel 200 or 300 miles, if you want to go from London to Paris, for example, then you are going to want to run something that will give you that range. So we think you’ll see hybrid propulsion systems starting to make this a reality in the shorter term.”
The aerospace sector’s push into all electric propulsion has drawn comparisons with the automotive industry, where electric cars like the ones from Tesla are gaining ground in terms of popularity and performance.”Think of it like the car industry. Historically everybody had an internal combustion engine. Over time you add more electric capability to it and then you start to see electric cars,” added Watson.”In the same way, we are introducing a hybrid propulsion system into this market because we think it gives you that range and capability.”
David Stewart, aviation and aerospace adviser and partner at Oliver Wyman, said that the aerospace sector was facing pressure to become more environmentally friendly.
“I think that electrical propulsion is a potential disruptor to the way things are powered,” said Stewart, “we are quite a long way for electrical power to be a replacement for kerosene, but never say never.”
He also cautioned that Rolls Royce’s flying taxi concept was in reality a development platform to test the new technology adding that the real market opportunity will likely be a scaled up version of ten to fifteen seats that can serve a wider variety of applications.
“Over time you’ve got more electrical capability for bigger and bigger aircraft, and that’s really what we are thinking about today. We are learning today about the technology that we will need tomorrow,” added Watson.