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Mobility-Lift-Off

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CHAPTER 1 – In the air
CHAPTER 2 – On the ground 
CHAPTER 3 – At the drawing board

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Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is ahead of the pack in efforts to clear road traffic congestion and take personal mobility skywards, having already achieved two major world-firsts. At the start of 2017, Chinese company eHang selected Dubai as the launchpad for the unmanned maiden flight of its first autonomous passenger transport drone.

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The methods that sensors and software deploy in automatic vision and learning applications – for example to detect objects and make lightning-fast decisions to plan a route or avoid an obstacle – can also be used for personal air taxis.

Whether the resulting vehicle carries a single passenger or three, has eight or eighteen rotors, or even if it is supported by a combustion engine: How we get from A to B will soon be far removed from the crowded and busy 20th century transportation networks we are used to. A new form of intelligent networked mobility – in which machines transport us to our destinations automatically and in the most environmentally friendly way – is on the horizon.

The list of companies that hope to realize this vision is extensive. In 2016, European aviation company Airbus opened an innovation laboratory known as A3 in Silicon Valley; it is aiming to draw its “Vahana” and “City Airbus” projects to a close with the development of market-ready air taxis by 2020. Nearby are two closely guarded startups – Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk – each of which has been provided with at least 100 million dollars of funding by Google cofounder Larry Page.

Travel services provider Uber has also promised an air taxi by 2020.


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Image: The first tests of Paul Moller, 1967, University of California, Davis, USA

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Image: Moller´s Skycar 400 with rotary engines

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“Governments all over the world have approached us about conducting test flights in their countries, including China, the USA, Australia, and Belgium,” says eHang co-founder Derrick Xiong. “The precise timeline depends not only on eHang, but on the authorities involved in the process and the rules and regulations they require us to follow.”

Volocopter boss Reuter is similarly optimistic:  “Initially, we’ll see point-to-point connections with a specific destination. These connections will be focused around high-traffic routes where air transport can relieve congestion on the ground.” In the long-term, Reuter adds, the air taxi will enable us to “live a simple life in the country and work in the city – which is a truly sustainable and attractive vision for the future.”
In August 2017, experts from Swiss bank UBS conducted a study to calculate the potential of the autonomous aviation market. They concluded that the ability to fly without a pilot would save at least 35 billion dollars a year in staffing costs, or that this amount could be generated through new revenue streams – from freight to personal transport. “On-demand urban aviation” is just one of many aspects of the autonomous aviation concept – but it is likely to become a major disruptive factor in the market over the next few decades.

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Image: Paul Saffo, trend forecaster from
California, USA 

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However, according to Cummins, many of the younger generation of developers in the engineering domain – many of whom are currently working on drone projects – lack the background knowledge of seasoned aviation engineers that experts like Moller possess.

“There’s a good reason why aircraft have engines: We can’t afford to underestimate the force of gravity.”

The aviation expert is calling for two conditions to be met before take-off. Firstly, there is currently no rigorous test protocol to certify air taxis as fit to fly and that can be overseen by a supervisory body such as the American FAA. To date, no country in the world has developed a recognized process to certify manned drones. The licensing rules for flying unmanned drones weighing over 25 kilograms are still a gray area too, with such flights requiring special permission in the USA.

The regulatory uncertainty surrounding the technology is delaying experiments. For example, Chinese manufacturer eHang announced at the start of 2016 that it would test the eHang 184 in the US state of Nevada, one of the world’s leading locations for drone experiments. However, since this announcement, no actual testing has taken place. “What we are lacking is a checklist. I would only assume that these machines are safe if a CEO of the company would let their own child travel in one,” remarks Cummins.

Even if Nevada had worked together with FAA experts to produce a detailed test program with the aim of obtaining permission to fly, there is still a second issue to contend with: How will the hundreds or thousands of cargo drones, manned air taxis, and other flying vehicles taking to the skies in the most heavily congested areas be managed safely and reliably?

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Image: Paul Saffo, trend forecaster from
California, USA

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Overview

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Chapter 1 Mobility-lift-off

Mobility lift-off

Dubai ueberflug
Chapter 2 An airborne future

Zukunft in der Luft

Christoph schulz 79891

Abheben

14

Command center 2
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