If you want to be taken seriously in the "flying automobile" business, you need a solid infrastructure plan. It is not enough to have an airplane that looks attractive and can take off and land vertically. It also needs a system for the city of landing platforms, loading stations and passenger loading and unloading areas. Uber is working on its own infrastructure plan, and now the German startup Volocopter is ready to show its own vision of an urban system of "air taxi" fully formed, reaching a nearby city.
Today, the company revealed its vision for a "Volo-ports" network on the rooftop, where up to 1,000 passengers could board and disembark their personal "flying taxi" every hour. That translates into 10,000 passengers per station per day, the company says. These stations would include elaborate conveyor systems, interchangeable battery packs and elevators that lead to huge cargo ports, all designed to move as many passengers as possible and at the same time ensure that their fleet of short-range aircraft is fully charged and ready to work.
Leaving aside for a moment the will (or unwillingness) of the passengers to sneak into what are drones so that they can take a few minutes of their trip to the airport, Volocopter's idea of an air taxi system in all The city is clearly very ambitious. The company plans to build circular launching platforms that protrude from the upper floors of the skyscrapers, from where Volocopter's 18-rotor 2X electric aircraft could take off and land.
After landing, these vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL) would move through a conveyor belt to an interior hanger, where passengers can disembark, and robots can exchange batteries for freshly charged batteries. Then, the aircraft is transferred via elevator to a parking garage on the floor below, where maintenance work can be performed before the vehicles are deployed to transport more passengers.
"It's about the mass transport of people and how it can be done safely and with what infrastructure," said Alexander Zosel, co-founder and innovation director of Volocopter, to The Verge.
"It's about mass transportation of people and how it can be done in a safe way."
Zosel said the goal is to take off and land a Volocopter aircraft every 30 seconds to achieve enough passenger capacity to ensure flights are cheap and accessible. In other words, Volocopter needs to handle a large number of passengers, or all this concept of air taxis will only be a trick used only by tourists and a percent.
The efforts of Volocopter here are remarkable because electric flight is extremely difficult to do; some would even say that it is impossible in a commercial sense. Flying requires an incredible amount of energy, and current battery technology simply does not offer the power-to-weight ratio necessary to achieve liftoff. Most experts predict that it will be years, if not decades, before the battery technology can catch up.
That is probably the reason why Volocopter expects its plane to operate only over short distances. The 2X has a flight time of 30 minutes and a maximum range of 17 miles, although Volocopter says the batteries can be swapped quickly to compensate for those numbers until the technology improves.
Zosel said Volocopter hopes to have a prototype station up and running sometime next year, but acknowledged that it will take up to 10 years before a complete system can be implemented throughout the city. The cost of these elaborate stations will probably be distributed among several partners, including real estate groups, cargo station operators, companies that provide assistance and the Volocopter itself.
The company has demonstrated the flight capabilities of the 2X in Germany, Dubai (where the company is most likely to launch its first air taxi service) and, most recently, at CES in Las Vegas, where it announced a partnership with Intel.