Silicon Valley in California spawns the awesome giants such as Google that hold the future in their hands but they cannot yet solve their traffic problem. Airbus Helicopters from Europe has the Vahana project, creating an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport, mimicking car sharing, with flight tests in 2017. Reliable sense-and-avoid technology is still needed. Airbus predicts global demand of millions, meaning low costs. In ten years, Airbus believes it could revolutionise urban travel for millions of people. See the IDTechEx report, Manned Electric Aircraft 2016-2031
NASA is studying pilotless air taxis flying from the cloverleaf turnoffs of Silicon Valley freeways but we suspect that the Airbus and NASA ideas will constitute a premium service initially because they are unlikely to handle sufficient numbers. Thinking in 3D is correct but to handle 1000 at a time you need long double decker trains with plenty of parking space at stations and the new Chinese straddling buses both of which can be pure electric without the currently eye watering cost of green hydrogen charging stations and fuel cells. Trains and straddling buses have the huge roof area necessary to photovoltaically produce tens of kW of electricity. The trains will pick up the rest by catenary to solar and wind farms and the straddling buses can pick up the rest from solar roads. Both may benefit from planned airborne wind energy at the roadside (kites and tethered multicopters that fly above the much more expensive conventional wind turbines to garner the stronger and more consistent winds above 300 meters). See the IDTechEx reports, High Power Energy Harvesting 2016-2026 and Energy Harvesting for Electric Vehicles 2016-2026 Water craft hold a lot of people and some in the Bay Area have solar and wind power to make them slightly less polluting but there is only limited scope for extending those routes.
It takes huge energy to lift a VTOL passenger aircraft vertically and the Volocopter from Germany for example only manages 30 minutes endurance which is nowhere near the safety margin for flying over cities so they are looking at hybrids with emissions. Nevertheless, Volocopter has big market potential. Such multi-propeller craft instead of helicopters are less efficient but much safer. It has hands-off stability without autopilot and the superb stability in winds you already see with commercial multicopter drones. See the IDTechEx report, Electric Drones: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) 2015-2025
In ten years or so, affordable, acceptable post-lithium ion batteries will give the 400 Wh/kg at which Elon Musk in Silicon Valley thinks intercontinental battery aircraft are worth thinking about, presumably with a lot of solar, multi-motor distributed-propulsion ultra-lightweight wings, structural electronics, other extreme lightweighting and no VTOL. See the IDTechEx reports, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026 and Advanced and Post-Lithium Batteries 2016-2026 Their motors will need to be double the power density of today, reaching 10kW/kg in our opinion. See the IDTechEx report, Electric Vehicle Traction Motors, Belt Driven & Integrated Starter Generators 2016-2026
No country allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities - with or without passengers - but this year Singapore gave permission to test a drone parcel delivery service on the campus of the National University of Singapore in mid-2017. To prove safety, Airbus Helicopters is developing an autonomous Skyways drone and its infrastructure in collaboration with the aviation authority, possibly leading to commercial projects starting in Singapore. Demonstrating safe operation will help shape the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft system operations in Singapore and increase acceptance for passenger flight testing, thus giving a boost to urban air vehicle projects. See the IDTechEx report, Autonomous Vehicles Land, Water, Air 2016-2026
Airbus Helicopters is also developing a craft for multiple passengers, facing fewer regulatory hurdles. Its CityAirbus with multiple propellers resembles a small drone. Initially operated by a pilot for quick entry into the market, it would switch to autonomous operations once regulations are in place, directly benefitting from the Skyways and Vahana projects. A successful feasibility study has been completed. Customers will use an app to book a seat then go from the nearest helipad. Unlike Vahana, several passengers share the aircraft paying little more than a taxi ride. It would be faster, more environmental and exciting but there are questions. How quiet? How safe? How would the vehicles communicate with each other? No hacking? The Europeans intend to have the answers.
Speed is paramount in the race to get fully autonomous vehicles in the skies for passenger transport: several other companies are preparing flying taxis. Elon Musk is interested in electrical VTOL.
"This market will develop quickly once we are able to deploy the first vehicles in megacities and demonstrate the benefits of quiet, emission-free air transport at competitive prices," states Jörg Müller from the Airbus Group's corporate development department. "When looking at the transport needs of business travellers to and from airports or between business districts, you quickly realise that the potential demand corresponds to about 100 times the yearly production of Airbus Helicopters. And that this would only require replacing one out of a hundred ground taxis."
IDTechEx has long argued that privately owned electric cars will soon become a back story 70% of the EV money coming from industrial and commercial vehicles, land, water and air as detailed in its report, "Electric Vehicles Change the World 2017-2037". We face peak car, internal combustion engine and lead acid battery. Multi-billion dollar activities providing what is really needed will be created from nowhere.
In addition to full hybrid and pure electric vehicles, the fix for conventional vehicles that keeps them legal as the new global emissions laws hit is the 48V mild hybrid as described in the IDTechEx report, Mild Hybrid 48V Vehicles 2016-2031 In ten years, many of these are intended to have pure electric modes thus qualifying as electric vehicles too. Add those into the brew and the EV market will be well over one trillion dollars in ten years' time and maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley will be less congested.
Fortunately it is in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley November 16-17 that IDTechEx Showreveals the disruptive new technologies that will make it all possible, with over 3000 paying delegates, a 200+ stand exhibition, 23 Masterclasses and eight parallel conferences on Electric Vehicles: Everything is Changing, structural electronics, 3D printed electronics, Internet of Things, sensors, energy harvesting, energy storage and much more. Bye Aerospace, Synergy Aircraft, Toyota, Nissan, Porsche, Volkswagen, Ford, Google, BYD, Panasonic and Siemens (hybrid electric aircraft) are part of the stellar lineup. Oak Ridge National Laboratory reveals advances in unmanned aerial vehicles. From California,
×Alta Devices reveals the route to energy independent electric vehicles, NASA the route to large electric aircraft, Intel announces biomimetic sensing and Proterra describes its electric bus breakthrough. Hear of electricity from EV tires, concrete charging a vehicle and how, "Silicon Valley Reinvents the Connected Car".
is exhibiting at the
Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, USA
15 - 16 Nov 2017
Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment Co