When will we be able to travel by drone taxi?

Drone technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. We’ve previously explored the increasing viability of drone deliveries and the expanding use cases for commercial drones.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve also seen some particularly innovative examples of how drone capabilities can help humans in crisis – from delivering urgent medical supplies to tracking the spread of the coronavirus as a means to contain the pandemic.

This serves to underline how drone technology, once purely thought of as something for hobbyists, can be used in a variety of ways. But while drones can be used to transport food and medical supplied, could we ever see the technology used for carrying humans? And if so, when?

Do drone taxis already exist?

Well, in short, yes – although that’s with a strong caveat. While autonomous drones with human-carrying capabilities have been tested successfully around the world, there isn’t currently a commercial operation that offers flights to the public on a regular basis. This could all change in the coming months with Ehang, a Chinese drone taxi company, that aims to build the first official autonomous air taxi service. German aviation start-up Volocopter has also trialled flights of its drone taxis in Singapore and Dubai, albeit with a test pilot on hand for safety purposes.

So, while the technology does exist in early 2020, it’s not yet available to the public in any substantial way.

Why do we need drone taxis?

The concept of drone taxis is inherently divisive. For many, the idea of taking a flight across a city when a car could suffice is an unnecessary and costly frivolity.

Yet in theory, drone flights could have a tangible impact on how cities run. For one, drone flights have the ability to significantly reduce the congestion on roads and alleviate the environmental and health impact of toxic emissions in densely built-up areas.

They could also speed up movement in urban environments – bringing travel much more in line with other advances in our increasingly digital societies, where consumers expect instant gratification in all parts of their lives.

What’s stopping the widespread introduction of drone taxis?  

Unfortunately, there are a few barriers to this technology being introduced universally. For one, as it is entirely new, manufacturing has quickly sped ahead of regulation across the world. Governance needs to catch up to ensure that drone taxi deployment is consistent, and importantly, safe.

That point of safety is key. At the moment, not enough has been done to satisfy the public and officials that drone taxis can operate in city environments safely. As it stands, more needs to be done to model what urban air space will look like when multiple drones are operating at the same time – and assess the risk factors for that.

That’s not to mention the potential for sky-high costs and what that entails in terms of accessibility and universality. This will be an important consideration for city officials weighing up whether they want to grant licenses to drone businesses in the future.

Finally, drone taxi companies need to work with city planners to ensure that there is enough space for ‘ports’ – i.e. areas where drones can take off and land. This will be a challenge for heavily regulated and busy urban environments.

The taxis of tomorrow?

While the promise of drone taxis offers much in terms of improving speed, convenience and congestion in urban areas, a lot still needs to be done to satisfy the public that they are safe. We expect the technology will take leaps forward in the coming years – but these steps need to be within the context of tighter regulation and mindful of public opinion.

What do you think about the idea of drone taxis? Would you use them if they were widely available today? Let us know in the comments below. If you want to find out more, check out some similar topics here: