Driver to Drone: Are flying taxis the next big thing?

The iconic 'volocopter' making its first test flight in Singapore, against the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.

In a sweeping victory for aviation junkies everywhere, German tech company “Volocopter” has successfully started trials of its brand new drone-like flying taxis, making waves across the private-hire and taxi industries across the globe.

The titular ‘Volocopter’ is a state of the art electronic and battery-operated flying taxi that promises swift and effective private transport to and from intra-city destinations at speeds of 63 mph (101 kph), easing traffic congestion and pollution by the time they are fully operational in 2021.

Singapore’s skyline was the first to be greeted by the sight of the Volocopter in action. Although airborne for only two-and-a-half minutes and pilot-operated, Volocopter expects these flying taxis to be fully automated once ready for commercial service.

The hover taxis can fit two passengers with ample room for luggage, and serves as a prime strategy to get around quick, and for a fraction of the cost.

Volocopter sees this as an opportunity to inject greener, more eco-friendly alternatives to conventional cab-hailing platforms in the near future, as roads around the globe (especially in south-east Asia) are highly congested, with air-cleanliness indexes having ranked them as among the most polluted in the world.

In a tech conference in 2018, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, and representatives of other car-hailing apps were quick to jump on the airborne bandwagon, seeking to expand their repertoire to include driverless and airborne taxis.

This swift technological shift does not come free of skepticism however, as many a tech researcher would be quick to point out that this could signal death knells for a whopping 89% of drivers in the industry.

Tom Flack, Editor-in-Chief at MoneySuperMarket suggests that a shift toward driverless vehicles would impact “those who drive for a living” before anyone else, and that “if businesses see an opportunity to save money by making drivers redundant, they are likely to grab it”, “that’s the nature of competition” he adds.

This echoes the broader sentiments of many workers in the UK, who could see their jobs consumed whole or completely transformed by an increasingly digitised workforce.

MoneySuperMarket claims that in a bid to cut costs and optimise profits, automation could remove £24bn worth of annual wages from the economy as driverless vehicles and flying taxis stand to take centre stage in our commercial commutes.

However, Nivesh Mikulash, a part-time Uber driver staring down the barrel of automation, says that he is skeptical of flying taxis being able to take over the profession in the next few years.

“Driverless taxis do not have the human intuition and sense to actually drive,” he says and that “flying taxis will inevitably have to go through many trials and bug fixes first”.

When asked about whether he was apprehensive about his position in future of the industry, he mentioned that “flying taxis will not replace drivers entirely, people still prefer people over machines.”

As much as Volocopter’s flying-taxi trials in the past few years have been met with substantial fanfare, there are still several roadblocks in the way of achieving full automation, let alone a complete domination of the industry.

Volocopter’s latest test flights took place at a newly erected “Voloport”, a specially designed takeoff and landing hub and passenger terminal which houses battery-replacement stations and maintenance tools, necessary in the routine inspections of the aircraft following each flight.

When addressing speculations that Volocopter would eradicate the need for human labour, company spokesperson Duncan Walker said that the infrastructural needs of their flying taxis are numerous, and would mean equipping each city with multiple ports, “staffing them with humans that can perform maintenance duties,” as well as regulatory checks on the drones.

So it is possible that this shift toward automation may seek to “create many more jobs for skilled workers than the contrary,” added Walker.

It is clear that in the pursuit for a fully automated ride-hailing industry, many of the ‘cogs in the machine’, do still require a tactful human eye to get the job done, and may in fact be the launchpad (pun intended) for evolving careers in the realm of aviation.

 


Featured image courtesy of Nikolay Kazakov for Volocopter.