Startup Vertical Aerospace Aims to Have Flying Taxi Service by 2022

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【Summary】Bristol-based startup Vertical Aerospace announced plans to launch a flying taxi service in Britain by 2022 and has conducted its first flying test.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Sep 17, 2018 8:30 AM PT
Startup Vertical Aerospace Aims to Have Flying Taxi Service by 2022

With the testing of autonomous vehicles becoming more commonplace around the world, companies are all eying the next big thing. There are more cars on the road than ever, which has everyone looking toward the sky as the next roadways to get things around quickly. 

Flying cars aren't exactly new, as companies have been talking about them for years. In 2016, Toyota filed a patent for an interestingly-designed vehicle that had a propeller at the back. The image and the idea of flying cars was still a foreign concept, though, until large companies like Uber and Airbus recently threw their hats into the ring. 

Uber, thanks to a research partnership with NASA, is hoping to take its ride-sharing service to the sky. Uber, though, has no interest in building the vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts itself, as it has announced multiple partnerships with battery companies and aircraft manufacturers to make it easier for it to come out with the flying service. 

"Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smart phones have," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, when Uber and NASA struck up the partnership. 

In the past few years alone, more companies have entered the flying car ring in the hopes of becoming one of the first to take moving people and cargo to the skies. 

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Vertical Aerospace Looks To Shake Things Up

A new British startup called Vertical Aerospace has entered the segment with the hopes of coming out with an intercity flying taxi service in Britain by 2022. Interestingly, Vertical Aerospace has built its own vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that's fully electric. While that doesn't make Vertical Aerospace unique, as companies like Kitty Hawk and Workhorse Surefly have also come out with their own flying machines, it does put the company in a small-knit group. 

While startups are coming out of left and right field on a regular basis, Vertical Aerospace wanted to prove that it's serious and recently conducted its first test. As The Verge reports, the company's aircraft flew over Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire. The pilotless machine that tipped the scales at approximately 1,600 pounds completed the unmanned flight without a hiccup. 

Despite the successful test, Vertical Aerospace is going in another direction compared to other companies, as it plans to have pilots in its flying machines when it rolls out with its air taxi service by 2022. The move, as The Verge claims, is to overcome regulatory and safety concerns. 

The decision to test autonomous flying machines, but stick to having pilots in their machines when the actual service rolls out is smart and should bode well for Vertical Aerospace. Companies that have been testing autonomous cars have run into snags that are threatening the public roll out of self-driving vehicles. 

In light of recent accidents, American drivers are becoming less interested in riding and sharing the road with autonomous vehicles. A lot of consumers and automotive websites believe that companies should be testing driverless cars on private roads before putting them on public streets. By using public roads for gaining precious real-world testing, some believe that companies have put the lives of other drivers in jeopardy. Vertical Aerospace wants to make sure that its VTOLs aren't affected by regulations.

"We are investing in all the technology evolution taking place in aerospace but we are trying to apply that to something that's real world and is possible to execute four years out," Stephen Fitzpatrick, Vertical Aerospace's founder and chief executive, told Reuters. "We are not waiting for huge changes in existing regulations." 

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Formula One-Inspired Machines

Besides the fact that Vertical Aerospace wants to have pilots in its flying machines when its flying taxi service goes live, the company is also taking a unique route by using lessons from Formula One. The idea to use things from F1 makes sense, as Fitzpatrick was once a one-time F1 racing team owner. 

"We've learned a lot from Formula 1, both in terms of technology and pace of development," Fitzpatrick told The Verge in an email. "The lightweight materials, aerodynamics and electrical systems developed through F1 are highly applicable to aircraft, much more so than to road transport. By putting those technologies in the hands of experienced aerospace engineers, we can build cutting edge aircraft for the 21st Century." 

Vertical Aerospace has the personnel to meet its goals, too. Since the Bristol-based company came to be in 2016, Vertical Aerospace has hired 28 aerospace veterans and technical experts from large players, including: Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and GE, claims The Verge. 

In order to test its first flying machine, the company received permission from Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Vertical Aerospace is already speaking with the European Aviation Safety Agency to get the proper certification in place for its upcoming model.

"Regulation evolves along with new technology but it takes time," Fitzpatrick told The Verge. "We are working alongside regulators throughout that process." 

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What's Next For Vertical Aerospace?

Getting a flying machine to autonomously cover some ground is impressive and would probably be more than enough to get a startup on the map. But for Vertical Aerospace, it's just another step in a complex series of moves. The company is now looking to developing a fixed-wing vertical take-off aircraft that can hold multiple passengers and has some space for a pilot, claims Reuters. 

Just because Vertical Aerospace is looking to put pilots into its flying machines doesn't mean the company is completely backing out of autonomous aircraft. Autonomous flight is a part of the company's future, as is extending range and increasing the number of routes the machines can travel, claims the outlet. 

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