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Flying taxi debuts in Dubai: What is an air cab and how will it change the way we travel?

XPeng’s eVTOL flying car X2 makes its first public flying in Dubai. AP

The future is here! The dream of whisking people through cities high above any traffic is inching towards reality after a Chinese firm tested out its electric flying taxi in Dubai.

Here’s a better understanding of how flying taxis work, their benefits and what it will look like to travel in one.

Flying taxi, explained

A flying taxi, also called an air taxi, is literally a flying car —  a small commercial aircraft or a helicopter for short flights on demand. It is considered as an alternative for travel in urban centres with congested roads and is also called urban air mobility (UAM) vehicle.

For some time now, air taxis have become an attractive option, with many companies such as Toyota, Uber, Hyundai, Airbus and Boeing working on their models and hoping to delve into the urban air mobility market.

According to a Morgan Stanley Research study, the autonomous urban aircraft market may be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040. Another urban air mobility (UAM) study, by Frost & Sullivan, sees air taxis beginning in 2022 in Dubai and expanding with a compound annual growth rate of about 46 per cent to more than 430,000 units in operation by 2040.

The flying taxi in Dubai

On Monday, Guangzhou-based XPeng Inc’s aviation affiliate tested out the XPeng X2 at the Marina District in Dubai.

The sleekly designed vehicle can carry two passengers and is powered by a set of eight propellers. The company says it has a top speed of 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour.

The company claims that although Monday’s presentation used an empty cockpit, a manned flying test was actually conducted in July 2021.

After taking off, the X2 completed its historic 90-minute test flight. According to the company, the X2 is equipped with an intelligent flight control system and autonomous flight capabilities. It is also eco-friendly as it produces zero carbon emissions during its flight.

The company has said that the flying car has a maximum flight altitude of 1,000 metres and is equipped with fixed-skid type landing gear.

Flying taxi debuts in Dubai What is an air cab and how will it change the way we travel

A man looks at the XPeng X2, an electric flying taxi developed by the Guangzhou-based XPeng, Inc’s aviation affiliate, being tested in front of the Marina District in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP

The flying taxi market

China’s XPeng Inc isn’t the only company trying to develop and test their flying taxis.

On 3 October, air taxi startup Wisk Aero, which is backed by Boeing, unveiled its sixth-generation aircraft, an all-electric four-seater that can fly without a human pilot.

Wisk’s aircraft features six front rotors, each with five blades that can tilt either horizontally or vertically as well as six rear rotors that each consist of two blades and remain fixed in a vertical position. The company says it has a cruising speed of 120 knots, a range of 140 kilometres with reserves, and can fly at an altitude of 2,500-4,000 feet above ground.

The company has said that it aims to one day provide an intercity flying taxi service that can be summoned with an app, like Uber. The plan is for the vehicle to not have a pilot on board; instead, it will be flown mainly by an autopilot system, with supervision from a human pilot situated remotely.

Also read: Unmanned air mobility fast becoming a reality: Why India should not miss the bus

In 2020, Toyota announced it was investing $394 million into Silicon Valley-based Joby Aviation, which is developing a piloted all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi.

Similarly, Hyundai has partnered with Uber and both the companies showed of a mockup of a large flying taxi in Las Vegas in 2020. The firms said that the electrically powered PAV or “personal air vehicle,” would have the capability of carrying four passengers on trips of up to 60 miles at speeds reaching 180 mph.

The Airbus also showed off its version of a flying taxi, called the CityAirbus NextGen, in September 2021. The CityAirbus NextGen has room for four passengers and its battery can last for 80 kilometres.

Turbulence ahead

Most transportation experts believe that flying vehicles is the next phase of mobility. Joe Praveen Vijayakumar, Frost & Sullivan senior industry analyst, was quoted as telling CNBC, “Urban centres across the globe are struggling to come to terms with the rising vehicle numbers and the resulting congestion, especially during peak traffic hours. When air taxis become widely commercialised, they will definitely ease the traffic burden on city roads. They will usher in a nimble form of intracity travel, transporting people on the shortest possible route between two locations

However, there are challenges that companies have to overcome. Safety of these vehicles is of utmost significance.

Another concern is that these vehicles can become an easy target for hackers. Costing is another huge issue with flying taxis. Some believe that the market would be ‘ultra niche’ similar to how private helicopters and airplanes operate.

With inputs from agencies

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