This drone can deliver humans. PassengerDrone has just released some details about its autonomous flying electric vehicle, saying it could "revolutionize traditional notions of transport."
Although many of us may have dreamed of a future full of flying cars by now, it's still not very likely that we'll see a vehicle that can both drive and fly proficiently anytime soon. What's more likely to happen is that the technologies of electric propulsion and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) will be applied to the personal mobility space, and we'll start seeing more small electric aircraft being developed, especially those that can be remotely or autonomously operated. Advanced software combined with plenty of processing power can take the place of lengthy flight training and remove the need for having a qualified human operator at the controls, making these human-scale drones a potentially good fit for short commutes and local transport (with Dubai leading the race to be the city with the first flying taxis).
The latest news in the autonomous electric aircraft sector comes from quite possibly the most appropriately named company, PassengerDrone, which recently released some information about its own flying machine. Although it is way too early to know enough about it to say for sure, the company, in keeping with the trend of using superlatives for every tech news release, called it "the world’s most advanced, state-of-the-art, autonomous manned aerial vehicle," and predicts that it could "revolutionize traditional notions of transport."
First, the launch video, which is about par for the course for a tech product promo:
And here's a quick look at the PassengerDrone flying with a passenger:
According to the company, the vehicle is "slightly larger than a compact car" and seats two, uses 16 independently powered electric motors to spin the rotors, and can be operated autonomously, remotely piloted, or manually piloted. One of its claims for innovation is about the use of fiber optics instead of wiring for all of the PassengerDrone's controls, which it says enables fast and efficient transmission of data within the aircraft, while also reducing the weight of the vehicle. Another is its Autopilot software that "allows passengers to input their destination quickly and fly there precisely," which is billed as a way to eliminate the stress and time of long commutes.
"Utilizing its easy to use touch-screen, passengers simply select their destination, sit back and relax, as the drone takes over, eliminating stressful commutes with the ability to travel up to 80 km/h." - PassengerDrone
Looks like fun, eh? But before we all climb in our drones and fly home, the reality is that the vehicle currently has a maximum payload of 270 pounds, which means two full-grown adults might be too heavy, and has a top speed of 45 mph and a flight time per charge of just 20-25 minutes. There's no mention of the charging time for the batteries, or of the estimated price for a production model, so when all of those constraints and unknowns are added up, the PassengerDrone looks more likely to end up as a toy in a wealthy person's garage than to be seen dropping people off at the office anytime soon.
That said, the idea of a small, quiet, and relatively clean transport solution that isn't restricted by heavy car traffic is a compelling one, and electric aircraft like the PassengerDrone could fill a need in local transportation, but there are quite a few issues that would have to be addressed and overcome before the air above us is full of them. For one thing, although an electric car might be dead on the road if its battery is drained, it won't ever fall at terminal speed on anyone, and for another, considering how dangerous small consumer drone propellers have proven to be on unsuspecting humans, just imagine what 16 large blades spinning right at head level could do (see photo above). None of those are insurmountable challenges, but it takes a lot of time, money, and materials to get from workable prototype to beta model to a production model that is safe and reliable, while also complying with all of the necessary regulations for flying machines, so the future might be farther away than we think.