It isn't only cars on the road that are moving rapidly towards self-driving status — aircraft are heading that way too.
Wisk Aero, a joint venture between the Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation, has unveiled its sixth-generation air taxi, which, it said, is “the most advanced in the world”.
The self-flying taxi represents the first candidate for US Federal Aviation Administration certification of an autonomous, passenger-carrying electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxi.
“In 2010, we set out to find a way to skip traffic and get to our destination faster,” said Gary Gysin, chief executive of Wisk.
“That inspiration evolved into a mission to deliver safe, everyday flight for everyone. Over the past 12 years, we have pursued that mission through the development of five different generations of full-scale aircraft."
The company said it is using the same proven technology that accounts for more than 93 per cent of automated pilot functions on today’s commercial flights.
Its air taxi, which has a cruising speed of 222 kilometres an hour, has a range of 144km with reserves and flies at an altitude of 762 metres to about 1,220 metres, with space for four people plus baggage.
Along with its decision-making software, it will require “multi-vehicle supervisors”, who provide human oversight and can intervene when required.
Wisk said the new air taxi has an “automotive-like” interior to provide comfort for passengers and the likes of Wi-Fi and charging will be available.
The aircraft has been designed with a price target of $3 per passenger, per mile.
“Through a multifaceted approach — including autonomous flight with human oversight, a simplified design with fewer moving parts, fully redundant systems, and no single point of failure — Wisk’s aircraft is being designed to exceed today’s rigorous aviation safety standards of a one-in-a-billion chance of an accident,” Wisk said.
Billions of dollars worth of investment has been poured into the eVTOL sector, as companies race to be the first commercial success amid the push for lower carbon emissions.
Joby Aviation was the leading company in the eVTOL industry as of 2021, with $1.6 billion in investments, according to Statista.
An eVTOL flying car display is set to be one of the star attractions at next week's Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (Gitex) in Dubai.
XPeng — a technology company and electric vehicle manufacturer that designs, develops, manufactures and markets intelligent mobility solutions — has produced the two-seater eVTOL X2 flying car with the support of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, its official partner.
The X2 is equipped with an intelligent flight control system and autonomous flight capabilities and is the latest generation of flying cars developed independently by XPeng’s affiliate XPeng Aeroht.
In June, electric aircraft company Eve Holding, owned by Brazilian plane maker Embraer, and UAE-based charter flight operator Falcon Aviation Services signed a letter of intent for up to 35 flying taxis.
With deliveries of the aircraft expected to start in 2026, the partnership will introduce the first eVTOL tourist flights from Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai.
A joint venture by Virgin Atlantic Airways and UK start-up Vertical Aerospace was planning to trial a flying taxi service at Heathrow Airport earlier this year.
Last year, Airbus revealed a modified design for a fully-electric four-seat “flying taxi” with fixed wings, a V-shaped tail and eight electrically powered propellers for quieter flights over cities as part of its push for sustainable urban air mobility.
The European aerospace company said it aims to fly a prototype of its CityAirbus NextGen in 2023 and obtain certification by 2025.