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Future Tech: 

Delivered by drone: two humans

 

We have take off! Well, we don't. But maybe in a few years.

We have take off! Well, we don’t. But maybe in a few years.

You might trust a drone to deliver your Amazon parcel, or a pizza, but how would you feel about them if the precious cargo you were entrusting them with was… you?

That’s the aim of Joby Aviation, which envisages a world where the skies are filled with automated drone taxis scuttling passengers around the equivalent of short-haul flights. CEO and founder JoeBen Bevirt has been working on the S2 two-seat electric aircraft for 10 years.

“If we can build an aircraft which is quiet, safe, and efficient, and you get door-to-door at five times the speed of ground transport, it will radically change life,” Bevirt enthused to ReadWrite.

It’s hard to argue with him on that point. The S2 is designed to travel up to 200 miles, and it can do that in an hour, putting it far ahead of current commuter vehicles. Though of course part of that estimate is to do with the fact that the skies above cities are currently pretty free of traffic.

That’s only one of its problems – there’s quite a few to overcome. The first is legal. The Federal Aviation Administration would need to approve the vehicles for passenger use, and how it defines them could make or break the venture. If they’re ‘commercial planes’, then great, but if they’re ‘passenger drones’, then expect a long period of commercial limbo, given how reluctant the FAA was to grant permission for commercial use of drones to deliver parcels.

Another issue is logistical. The S2 doesn’t need a runway, which is good, but a helipad or similar is still required. Most cities don’t have that many of them, because helicopters aren’t that common. So more would need to be built, or the good work done on getting from A to B would be undone by a long wait for ‘a parking space’.

A final one is volume. The current model is incredibly noisy. The eventual four-seater version (which has the imaginative working title of ‘S4’) is aiming to be 65 decibels at 250 feet, around 100 times quieter than a helicopter – “the magical number” where humans find stuff less irritating, according to Bevirt.

These problems when added together may seem tough to navigate right now, but the incentive is massive. Joby’s S2 technical paper suggests the S2 is markedly cheaper and more efficient than a helicopter ($200,000 + $0.05 energy cost vs $291,700 + $0.53 energy for the Robinson 22), so if it can be made to work, then cheap(er) air travel at impressive speeds might be the push we need to overcome the obstacles.

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