Your Flying Taxi is Here

Military Embedded Systems

Published in Military Embedded Systems

The flying car: From The Jetsons to Blade Runner to Star Wars, the idea of escaping the traffic jam down on the ground and cruising through the sky has always seemed a promise too far out of reach to be real. Now, thanks to parallel advancements in battery technology and autonomous vehicles resulting from Tesla and other pioneering electric automobile manufacturers, we are rapidly approaching the era of the unmanned flying taxi.

Dozens of companies are seriously pursuing this emerging market – from Uber Elevate to Bell Air to Airbus A3. According to experts in the field, we are now at the stage where the biggest challenge is no longer technological but simply a matter of boosting public perception and confidence. The appeal of these futuristic conveyances is personal and tangible: Some estimate that 100 million people around the world have a daily commute that lasts 45 minutes. The champions of the new platforms claim that the benefits compared to existing rotorcraft are manifold, and include noise reduction, efficiency, zero operational emissions, and greater affordability.

The popular name for these vehicles is eVTOL, which stands for electric vertical take-off and landing. NASA uses the term “urban air mobility (UAM),” which it defines “as a safe and efficient system for air passenger and cargo transportation within an urban area, inclusive of small package delivery and other urban unmanned aerial system (UAS) services, that supports a mix of onboard/ground-piloted and increasingly autonomous operations.” Analysts predict major growth for the category. Booz Allen Hamilton, in its November 2018 “Urban Airborne Mobility Executive Report,” predicts that there will be 4,000 eVTOL aircraft in use within the next 10 years. Los Angeles is hoping that eVTOLs will be a viable way for visitors to the LA-hosted 2028 Olympics to zip from venue to venue.

The good news for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vendors is that the same size, weight, and power (SWaP)-optimized solutions they’ve been actively fielding in recent years to address various design assurance levels (DALs) of D0-254 safety-certifiable hardware requirements for manned and unmanned airborne platforms are also well-positioned to meet the needs of eVTOL vehicles. While safety certification specifications from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and EASA [the EU Aviation Safety Agency] for traditional aircraft have long been defined and understood, eVTOL platforms bring with them a whole new set of concerns. To help the market get off the ground, EASA issued in October 2018 a document called “SPECIAL CONDITION for Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Aircraft.”

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