Flying taxis at your service: The race is on for the 'Uber of the skies'

Flying vehicles have been a topic for science fiction, but aviation and technology companies are now working to make them a reality. A look at some of the exciting projects in works at present
British engine maker Rolls-Royce recently unveiled its plan to develop a hybrid electric vehicle, the "flying taxi‚??, which takes off and lands vertically and could be a reality within five years.

The electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) plane will seat four or five people, with a flying range of 500 miles (805 kilometres) and a top speed of 200 miles per hour. The London-listed company is planning to manufacture a prototype version of its EVTOL vehicle within the next 18 months, and could potentially take to the skies in early 2020s.


Recently, many companies like Airbus, Uber and a range of start-ups, including one backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, have announced similar projects.

Cora
Kitty Hawk, a start-up run by Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, recently introduced its Cora autonomous air taxi. According to the company, the "air taxi" is an electric aircraft which is intended for use as part of a transportation service instead of sale to individual users. It will be built to use self-flying software. The taxi uses 12 lift fans for vertical take-off and landing like a helicopter. Once it's in the air, a single propeller drives Cora at about 110 miles per hour, between altitudes of 500 and 3,000 feet.The company plans to launch its first working model in New Zealand.

Airbus Vahana
Vahana is a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) single-passenger design with wings and tail sections that rotate from vertical to horizontal as the aircraft lands and takes off. The company said that the electric plane had completed two successful test flights, rising to a height of 16 feet for a duration of 53 seconds. The aircraft is 20 feet long and almost 19 feet wide, with a projected battery range of 62 miles. The VTOL design allows it to take off and land in small areas like a parking lot or skyscraper roof. The 5.8-meter long, 726-kilogram Vahana's maiden voyage was less than a minute.

Ehang 184 quadcopter
The quadcopter is all electric and can carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight. The person in the cockpit doesn't do any piloting. They just input their destination and enjoy the ride. The company claims to have conducted more than 1,000 passenger test flights as high as 300 meters, as far as 15 kilometers, as fast as 130 kph and, at times, carrying more than 230 kilograms. It was also tested in as many as 184 weather conditions, including high heat, heavy fog, night tests, and during a Category 7 typhoon with gale-force winds.


Volocopter
The German company behind this 18-rotor, two-person air taxi is backed by Daimler and recently struck a partnership deal with Intel. Their latest model, the 2X, is capable of 30 minutes of flight - designers are aiming for a full hour, which they think will be sufficient for typical shuttles across most of the major cities. Risk of crashing is diminished by nine battery packs - in the event of catastrophic failure a ballistic parachute will save the day.
Uber Elevate and Uber Air
Uber is developing several air taxi concepts. The air taxi would take off and land vertically like a helicopter but would be much less noisy. The craft will have a cruising speed of 150 to 200 miles an hour and a range of about 60 miles. These air taxis would be available on a smartphone app similar to the one used for cabs.
Last November, the taxi firm signed a deal with NASA to develop on-demand, 200mph electric aircraft that would begin testing in gridlocked Los Angeles in 2020. It has also announced similar projects with helicopter manufacturer Bell.


Lilium
In April 2017, Munich-based startup Lilium demonstrated the first unmanned flight of its two-seater prototype VTOL vertical take-off and landing jet. Powered by 36 electric jet engines, rather than rotors, the craft could reach speeds of 185 mph.
Lilium claims the 19-mile journey from New York's JFK airport to Manhattan would take five minutes in its air taxi compared to 55 minutes by car. Lilium hope to have the service operational by 2025.