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Larry Page’s Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode (nytimes.com)
288 points by fallingmeat on Mar 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments

Nice to see a local East Lansing boy (Page) behind this project;<).

I know the engineers would throw a fit but I'd find a way to add a parachute to this craft similar to Cirrus. As of 2016 the parachute has saved 131 lives.


For those who are curious about an actual parachute landing/crash like me:


A friend of mine has been working for Page on this project and doing the rigging work for the parachute so pretty sure it has one.

Just wanted to point out that the parachute has mixed reviews overall (from owners), due mainly to the costs associated with it. It requires a $15,000 repack every 10 years, which immediately adds $125/mo to the cost of ownership. Wouldn't be that bad, except you can't just choose to fly without it. The plane is not airworthy if the chute repack is due, and is illegal to fly. Not to mention the fact that if you use it, you're firing rockets out of the top of the plane and essentially destroying it.

So yes the parachute is obviously a net positive but let's not just go slapping it on every new airframe that gets developed.

> let's not just go slapping it on every new airframe that gets developed.

Indeed. The Diamond DA40 (without chute) arguably has a considerably better safety record than the Cirrus (with chute). Engineering decisions (even if they concern life-or-death questions) still involve tradeoffs.

The Volocopter is designed to have a ballistic rescue chute, if I understand correctly; but for such a relatively new technology (without autorotation capability) that might be the right decision.

$125 per month is less than the cost of insurance paid by an Uber driver to insure his/her car for commercial rides.

Why not? If $125/month saves your life some day, isn’t that with it?

The vast majority of owners never deploy it.

The vast majority of car owners never deploy their airbags. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worth every penny.

Of course. My point is that you can't just look at the number $125/mo and make a decision. You need to also ask how often they are successfully used. Your airbag definitely wouldn't be worth it if they were used 1/100th as often (and probably not even if it were 1/10th).

The transition to winged flight is interesting. There's a large drone which works like that. Takeoff and landing are on electrical quadrotor props, while for forward flight, a gasoline engine provides power. This give the drone six hour endurance.[1] So it's useful for search and patrolling. This new thing is a scale up of that.

The successor to the Osprey will hopefully be something like this, not the mechanical nightmare of that tilt-rotor. Each engine on the Osprey can power the other rotor in an emergency. The mechanical linkage for that is a nightmare.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2kcyw99V2E

> Takeoff and landing are on electrical quadrotor props, while for forward flight, a gasoline engine provides power.

There's a reason for that: takeoff (and landing for VTOL) require much more power than level flight, especially with a VTOL design where all of the lift comes from the engines, and gasoline engines get a lot heavier with power than electric motors. On a conventional plane, you are carrying that huge/heavy engine around for the entire flight, just for the power during takeoff.

Electric motors are a lot lighter for a given power level, but on the other hand, the "fuel" for electric motors (i.e. batteries) is a lot heavier than gasoline, limiting endurance.

So some sort of hybrid mechanism that blends the advantages and disadvantages can make a lot sense, despite the extra cost/weight of a hybrid powertrain.

The Tron lasts 90m on fully electric, by rotating the props: https://www.quantum-systems.com/tron/

Very talented bunch. I've seen the tech and the engineering behind it, and I have no doubt that they can build the aircraft they're claiming here.

What remains to be seen is how they interface with the existing aviation regulatory framework. They even hint at this in the video, with the "making this useful to society" line, and what looks to me like regulatory allowances from NZ.

I'm fairly certain that they know powered lift isn't compatible with dense urban environments, so don't expect a Fifth Element situation in NYC anytime soon. :) I'm super curious to see what the use case ends up being. My money's on super short haul, like Mountain View to Oakland sort of distances, with numerous small, dedicated taxiports similar in scale to ferry terminals.

I think that the interesting use for air taxis isn't in going through cities, it's in traversing terrain that's difficult or impossible to build roads through. So going over water or rugged terrain like steep hills or ravines.

In the SF area, there's not a ton of use for it, but perhaps a fast hop from Treasure Island to the Embarcadero (feeding into BART) would make the proposed redevelopment of Treasure/Yerba Buena island more attractive (as of right now, it's hard to imagine thinking it was a great idea to live some place where you had to take the Bay Bridge to get literally anywhere).

Going mostly over unpopulated terrain would limit (not eliminate, just limit) both safety and noise concerns.

The use case is oddly specific- ideally you have a region that's geographically challenging, but not sparse enough that you can just wedge an airstrip somewhere and call it a day. It also can't be so developed that there's existing or imminent Real Infrastructure, like a metro rail link between Treasure Island and SF.

I think the main tricky bit about the commercial side of the use case is that you need your settlements to be either side of the geographically challenging bit but also quite close together due to range limitations, and probably in areas with usually benign weather conditions.

Small archipelagos would be an obvious use case, but I wonder how it compares cost and convenience wise with using a boat.

It's probably a bit more faster and more flexible, with the downside of holding much less cargo. I'm not sure that's enough to displace already existing boat services to be honest.

Few areas come to mind immediately that fit that criteria. (The only one that came to mind personally as a "maybe" was the small Pacific coastal communities stretching up British Columbia up through Alaska, that are mostly served by water taxi now. I don't see an advantage even there initially.)

One other possibility I see for this if there are significant advantages to this over helicopters in certain situations, it might compete with services currently provided that way. (EG: Could this replace a helicopter air ambulance? Is there differences (engine volume comes to mind) that it would be desirable to replace helicopters with this for the tourism market? Etc.)

It's not going to compete with an air ambulance because it doesn't have the carrying capacity. In the long term it might have favourable economics and possibly even safety vs the Robinson R22, a helicopter which has sold a few thousand units. But yeah, I think there are more cases for it as an alternative low-end short range helicopter sometimes deployed as a taxi than as an Uber alternative

It is indeed specific, but I think that you're underselling it slightly.

Airstrips are low-throughput, you could imagine that VTOL air taxis could offer a lot more individual vehicles in the same geographic footprint. And they're much faster than ferries. They could potentially fly over shipping lanes that make bridges difficult due to height restrictions, and underwater tunnels are expensive.

If going over a natural area, people might have fewer environmental concerns about flying air taxis over it than building a rail or road line through it.

Some areas I could see it being vaguely plausible are: Kitsap Penninsula or Vashon Island to Seattle. The various islands of NYC. The various islands of Hong Kong. Between Copenhagen and Malmo. I'm sure there are more.

I don't think this would add up to a $20B business or anything, but it's unclear to me that Page cares about that.

Seems like you could fly over the bay for north/south commutes as an alternative to 101 and 880.

Not to mention flying across the bay. There are lots of commutes that involve going north or south, then crossing a congested bridge, then north or south again. Those could be replaced with a straight shot.

Sounds like a fancy chopper in that case

It's tempting to think of it that way, but there are significant advantages to this configuration: low-power cruise in forward flight, longer maintenance intervals, nearly silent drive system (not counting the props, obviously, but removing the noise generated by one or two turboshafts isn't a trivial difference).

BTW for context re: maintenance, on a light aircraft such as a Cessna 172, you must conduct a 100 hour/annual inspection. This would be a deep inspection by automotive standards. This involves taking the cowling off and doing compression tests on each cylinder, for example.[1] The recommended engine Time Before Overhaul is 1800 hours I believe. Removing some of those costs would be a boon to a transport operation that requires high-uptime operation.

[1] More complete list here: https://www.cessnaflyer.org/images/PDF/annual_inspection_che...

How fun would it be to have billions to sprinkle on cool projects like this.

It would be even cooler if he would sprinkle his billions on solving real problems instead of wasting them on toys for rich people like this.

He is solving problems. What an inane comment. Almost every hugely innovative technology started as a "toy for rich people."

The Kitty Hawk Cora launch video from Monday:


Can anyone chime in how this aircraft is so energy efficient? It seems like the props on the wing will give a ridiculous amount of drag. Also, one of the key requirements for an energy efficient rear prop plane is super laminar air going to through the rear prop for efficient thrust. The wing design seems to remove this advantage.

Feels like billionaires solving billionaires problems - this doesn’t scale.

It's actually kind of weird to default to whether or not it scales. It doesn't shoot laser beams either, but that doesn't doom it. Mostly I'm concerned about whether it can get my snowboard and I to the top of a back country mountain for 1/3rd the price of hiring a helicopter pilot and his machine.

How can you say that when you don't even know the price of the service?

Well, if you base the costs off of a traditional aircraft (around which this is based), they'll be in the $100+ an hour range, minimum. The cost to buy will be in the $2-300,000 range, minimum. They will require yearly maintenance, not counting any maintenance required on the electric props and batteries. This is based off a production aircraft, the Cirrus.

I'm also not immediately seeing how this would not require a pilots license - more likely a helicopter license, though this is easily debatable.

So perhaps not billionaires, but millionaires to be sure.

It already costs me 100+ an hour to transport 4 people from San Jose to San Francisco. This would be cheaper and faster.

Via what method? Iirc, there are many economical methods of transportation between those two cities... Also, that $100 per hour is pure cost with no markups to provide for revenue or growth.

I could easily be wrong, but the aircraft they were displaying looked like a 2 seater, not 4.

Uber X, or 4 Caltrain tickets gets us close to 100.

WRT Caltrain, I remember using it for commuting, and certainly don't remember paying $50 a day to do so. But perhaps the times have changed and the prices with them. Still, $25 per ticket one way seems ridiculously high.

Throw in a couple jet ski style tow ropes and you're golden.

This is a huge step up from last year, where they showed off a drone-esque machine with 20 minutes of battery life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_rDkVIhQeY

Edit: they're working on both concurrently, it seems: https://kittyhawk.aero/

The drone-like vehicle hasn't been around as long as the concept from this release. You can see earlier versions in patent drawings from 2010 [1]

[1] https://patents.google.com/patent/US20130214086

This seems like the kind of thing that would be useful in specific situations, but won't be feasible for broad use until we come up with much cheaper electrical energy production (and probably storage too) than we have today, e.g. fusion power or much cheaper solar. At least I don't imagine it can be very energy efficient to expend power on moving up and staying up in the air instead of using the normal force from the ground 'for free' like a land-based vehicle does so it only needs to expend energy to move horizontally (for an intuition about this, think about how hard it is to jump half your body length upward, versus walking half your body length forward). So while it's cool that it's emissions free, it's not great if it ends up using e.g. 5-10x as much energy to make the same trip as an electric car, and it makes it that much more difficult to offset the environmental impact of its production and operation.

The Uber Elevate study from 2016 answers many of these foundational questions.

A traditional car achieves about 1 mile/kWh. An electric car achieves 3 miles/kWh, since the electric drivetrain is much more efficient. An electric plane might achieve around 2 mile/kWh. So, worse than an electric car, but better than a conventional car.

Some background: A car has aerodynamic and roll drag. At typical speeds (50 mph), they're of approximately the same magnitude. A plane has aerodynamic (parasitic) drag, similar to a car, but no roll drag, but instead an additional aerodynamic drag, the so-called induced drag, that is concomitant with generating lift. At typical speeds (higher than a car though), they're also approximately the same magnitude.

With lots of simplifications, one can thus say that one basically trades roll drag for induced (=lift generating) drag.

EDIT TO ADD: Link, the economics section starts on page 81 or so: https://www.uber.com/elevate.pdf

So whats the real power consumption? After all, getting that thing up into the air IS the problem and not flying it.

"These examples for car and VTOL have only considered the energy required to cruise at a specific speed, and doesn’t include the additional energy required to get the vehicle to cruise for either the car (acceleration) or VTOL (takeoff). "

They know exactly why this figures are missing.

hm, I tend to disagree. You might underestimate how much energy is spent on overcoming drag, and how strong the earth acceleration g is: One always needs to overcome it, and overcoming it just a bit more for a while is enough for a climb, basically.

If we take the performance section for the Cessna 172 N, for example, we see that it burns 8.4 gallons per hour at a (speedy) 75% power cruise. It takes 10 minutes to climb up to 6000 ft, and burns 1.9 gallons. In cruise, it would burn 1.4 gallons in that time. So, the climb requires about a third more.

So, given that PEVA (personal electric VTOL aircraft) would likely cruise at fairly low altitudes, and the climbing constitute only a small part of a flight, say a quarter, the total extra fuel consumption would be a fairly minor increase on top of the quoted numbers.

Note also that cars tend to accelerate and brake much more than aircraft tend to climb and descent.

You're right that powered lift is inefficient, however the whole point of this configuration is that you transition to forward flight/aerodynamic lift once aloft.

Yeah, I assume the airfoil of the wings gets it closer (anyone know how close?) to a car in efficiency once it's gotten moving, but I also imagine the energy overhead of the VTOL part of the flight is quite a significant chunk of the total if the range is only 62 miles. Improvements in battery weight could help here, but then again, they'd improve the efficiency of electric cars too, so it'd still be an unfavorable comparison. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that this is being innovated on, but I don't see this being a feasible replacement for Lyft/Uber for most people until the energy math starts looking very different than it does today.

I don't see it being a point to point transportation option for most of it's potential use cases either.

One thing that often gets neglected when talking about aircraft range is the fuel requirements - you need to have enough fuel to get to your destination airport, decide not to land there, go to the next best airport, and potentially sit in a hold for a while before actually landing. This is especially hard on electric aircraft since they're already energy-strapped. I'm guessing that the 62 mile figure includes destination+alternate+reserve fuel.

In a mountainous area like NZ, a car might have to take some sort of serpentine road to reach the destination while this thing would fly in a straight line, thus saving energy even if it's less efficient. However such scenarios are certainly unusual.

Landing/takeoff with a regular aircraft is quite risky and requires lots of space. I think this is a good compromise.

Two runways, at A and B, require less space than a road from A to B, though, I'd think.

im really excited about planes that have several smaller motors and props instead of one or two large ones. its a design that is only now becoming possible commercially because of EV popularity. really looking forward to seeing where it all goes.

Yes. It seems to have 13 rotors, 12 on the wings and a larger one in back. It looks like each of the wing rotors can tilt on two axes. That should make the plane very maneuverable. Better perhaps than a quadcopter. And more tolerant of rotor failures. Also, the rotors are less likely to behead people.

My guess is that the 12 wing rotors are at a fixed angles similar to a quadcopter V-tail. Unlike a v-tail, and to hazard another guess, I figure the inner 8 rotors point outwards to help provide stability so that a roll ends up with the lower side pointing straight down providing more lift and the higher side points out the side providing less lift. This pushes the craft back upright. There are times when you actually do want to roll so the 4 outer rotors point in. They're further out so there is more roll leverage. The mechanisms to tilt the rotors would add extra weight to a craft that's probably already low on margins. I'd say it's better to be a little less efficient for a short part of a flight than carry the extra weight for the duration.

Smells like a publicity stunt to me. Feels like Amazon's announcement of drone delivery where the product is vaporware.

Normally that would be the case for something like this, but eVTOLs have been in the news a lot in the last 24 hours due to the helicopter crash in NYC. There are also about fifty different companies working on the tech, so there legitimately is a race to get it out the door.

Hard to be a publicity stunt when they haven't gone public or announced anything yet.

Umm, duh? This is a press release.

Only 8 months ago they were showing just this little sit-on multi copter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54ASH0kMSCM

I wonder how long they've been working on Cora

That test aircraft looks very well developed. The article says it can fly 62 miles. I wonder how long it will take to recharge.

Note that 62 miles is 100 km.

Ah yes, that's much longer.

13 engines, electric.

And clearly they have built multiple aircraft (I haven't found N-numbers for all of them yet).



Looks like they have a number of aircraft registered, some as rotorcraft, some as gliders.


How is the energy use compared to ground transport ?

Are we going to dump a massive amount of heat into the environment if flying vehicles become as popular as ordinary taxis ?

I think I am with Musk on this form of transportation. Much too loud for even a small number of people to use them without high noise pollution in any urban area. Helicopters and planes are bad enough and they are quite rare. Even existing freeways are quite noisy. Bring on the tunnels. Unless we can get some kind of anti-gravity or super noise cancellation, I hope these flying cars don't become popular.

There are many remote areas in the South Island that are hard to get to. For example, West coast and particular the Haast area, wasn’t connected to the rest of the country until late 1980s. That is, 130 years after Western people started colonisation here.

Previously the only way to get to these remote areas is via light aircraft and helicopters. “Flying doctor” and nurses weren’t uncommon. (Our midwife used to fly in, deliver a baby and fly back home for tea.)

Public transportation, especially long distance ones, are poor. (Comparing to Switzerland and China.) Dunedin is only 100 miles away from Queenstown but it usually takes us 4:30 to 5:00 to get there by car.

So if you see this news from these perspectives, you’ll see why it’s so cool and why the downsides aren’t that bad at all.

So, you think those vehicles would be restricted to the country side? I find that very hard to believe. Especially suburban areas will be doomed by broad adaption of this kind of technology.

And while you may now see the advantage in remote areas, do not forget that when you get faster out you get in faster and the amount of people (and hence general noise) will increase so much. If a commute of one hour is acceptable for most people, its just the range those people live in that increases. And even if traffic is not that dense, some 100 dB noise every 2 minutes can be as annoying as a busy street nearby.

I always have the feeling that people always just look what they could do if they had this kind of technology and not what other people might do with it.

I’m curious, if a local community doesn’t want to adopt a technology, don’t you think they should regulate it locally, instead of fussing about the fact that it may work fine for a different community? If a city doesn’t want flying taxis I don’t see why they can’t just pass an ordinance banning them.

If flying taxis work great for New Zealand’s use cause, are you really opposed to developing it because it won’t work in your country? What an odd way to think about technology.

Some things don't work as well with a federated model of rules, and one of the things that's an especially poor match for that is comprehensive transportation systems, sort of by definition.

These planes are designed to pilot themselves. When the passenger enters a destination, it should query a database of areas where it is permitted to fly and pick the most appropriate route given the constraints.

The case that was being made is that the poster themselves wouldn't like the outcome they wish for because people in general have a tendency to under imagine others' behavior with a new tech, over their own benefits.

In flight these things are going to be less noticeable at ground level than a car. If nothing else FAA regulations limit how close you can fly near houses. Yea, you could have people taking off near you but that's a 2x per day thing not every 2 minutes.

In terms of cities the simple solution is to prevent these from landing outside of designated areas.

Noise cancellation tech will catch up too.

tech isnt a magic wand that can be waved to solve any conceivable problem.

Id love to see the power usage of noise cancelling out a single helicopter for a single person. That's ignoring how horrible life could be for the person sitting next to them.

At some point you have to accept the laws of physics.

Spent a day in Franz Joseph this Christmas. Lovely, hip little town, but constant buzzing of helicopters was annoying.

Electricity would certainly make them at least little bit quieter.

How so? The only difference is prop size, you seldom hear the motors of helicopters. Only the blade chop.

They only use vertical takeoff to get up to speed or when landing. In flight it's just as loud as a normal single engine aircraft which are generally quieter than a car at ground level.

Yeah, but that's exactly when the noise is most annoying for everyone else.

It has a range of 62 miles. It's not going to work for "hard to reach" places or long distances.

We have a race in NZ called the Coast to Coast - you start with a foot in the Tasman Sea and finish with a foot in the Pacific Ocean. It can be either done in one day (called the Longest Day) or two days, and comprises cycling, a mountain run across the Main Divide, then more cycling, then kayaking, then cycling again.

But the fact that it can be done in one day should give you a hint as to the breadth of the South Island of NZ. Something like this would especially benefit our isolated West Coast, or if it can safely land in mountainous areas would be of great use in hunting.

But the fact that it can be done in one day should give you a hint as to the breadth of the South Island of NZ.

Here in the UK we have the Coast to Coast walk[1]. It's 192 miles. The record is 39 hours and a bit, so just under two days. That shouldn't give you any hint at all that the country is that narrow everywhere though, just as the race in NZ doesn't.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_to_Coast_Walk

100 kilometre range, even 50k in and 50k out, has the potential to make a lot of hard to reach places not.

Especially if it's VTOL and rechargeable from a wall socket.

Right now it has a range of 62 miles. That's obviously just a starting point.

Agree with the premise of all that you say.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking but its worth noting that Haast Pass was opened in '65 and Dunedin to Queenstown takes 3.5 hrs without breaking the speed limit.

But yeah, flying cars would be a boon for many parts of Nuw Zulund

I think these would be great for many applications. I'd love to own one and fly it around. But, like I said, the problem is with urban areas. Imagine literally a million of them flying at the same time during rush hour in the LA basin or around the Bay Area. That is something a bit different than flying around remote areas in the Outback, Alaska, the Yukon, or the South Island.

Current rules on helicopters are OK, since they are very expensive to purchase and operate, but drop those an order of magnitude and I don't think that will be the case.

Doesn't sound like the big, attractive market to serve, though. What's the population of that area?

Maybe there’s some benefit to encouraging people to concentrate in urban areas. The US specifically is already ruined by urban sprawl. Making long commutes easier may just threaten the last remnant of pristine nature remaining.

Apart from ecological concerns, there are also social trade-offs: flying cars may allow you to get to work. But they do not facilitate the social interaction that comes from strolling down Main Street, having a coffee, and interacting with people you may meet.

> Dunedin is only 100 miles away from Queenstown but it usually takes us 4:30 to 5:00 to get there by car.

So, the simplest solution would appear to be some road improvements, rather than noise pollution for the people who enjoy the quiet enjoyment of rural areas

Drilling tunnels into the Kiwi equivalent of the Alps to service communities that are mostly in the range of hundreds to thousands of people is neither simple nor financially feasible.

I've done that drive and I've driven in the Alps, that road is mainly encompassed by large hills rather than mountains,

Why is there any assumption that those people _want_ easier access to and from their communities?

GGGP (alexdong) lives there and apparently wants easier access to doctors, nurses, and midwives.

That's a sample size of one, but I suspect at least a few other people will agree if they're ever in need of medical care. People are fickle; they say they want quiet when tourists are rummaging around, but don't even care about a helicopter landing in their backyard when there's a doctor on board.

Jumping to the conclusion based on pure conjecture ?

See their launch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeFxjRMv5U8 where they specifically mention how quiet it is (and the noise profile in the video indeed seems not annoying at all).

Sound in videos is rarely recorded on location. What you hear when you're watching probably bares no relation to the real world at all. Also, it may be fine when there's one of them. When there's 50 coming and going from a popular tourist spot it'd be a very different story.

It sounds pretty noisy to me in that video, even with the music partially covering it.

It’s hard to say if it’s noisier than a car, but I wouldn’t say it’s quiet at all.

Being within ~10x the noise of a car is pretty quiet, considering they'll be up in the air most of the time. Unless the video is really misleading about noise, this won't be an insane nuisance.

It's definitely going to be noisier than a car because of the propeller noise. Small aircraft don't generally have mufflers on their engines, so a gasoline powered aircraft will have both propeller noise and engine noise that are greater than that of a modern automobile (imagine your car without a muffler or even much of an exhaust pipe - no, not you Tesla owners).

The video specifically mentions that they are fully electric. It isn't a gasoline powered aircraft.

Yes ... my point was that it was going to be quieter than a gasoline powered airplane and noisier than a car. As an aside, I suspect the "buzzing" noise made by the propellers was attenuated in the video post production.

If it has the same noise profile as a current consumer camera zone, I want none of these things anywhere near me.

When flying horizontally, I can imagine it is quite quiet.

While taking off and landing, I expect it to be very noisy and cause a lot of wind.

With work, the landing and takeoff could be very fast - maybe just a couple of seconds until it starts to get up to speed and can use the quiet wings rather than noisy tiny propellers.

What about electric propeller motors though? Aren’t they much quieter? If you could get the noise close to that of a glider then the only other pollution you’d have to worry about is visual.

Then we’d need to start investing in active cloaking methods :)

I might be more sensitive to noise than most, but I've been in urban parks where I'm enjoying my time, relaxing, and a single small drone flies far (100ft) overhead. Its unnatural buzzing sound is quite annoying. Glider only action I would guess would be fine, but you have to get to altitude first to glide. And then altitude control near landing will have to be powered.

I would love to see it in action and get to fly around myself. Fun times. But imagine a million of these in the air at the same time like you would have over LA or the Bay Area.

DJI made some advancements on their latest Mavic Pro which is 60% quieter and a much more pleasing pitch. You certainly would not hear it at 100 ft unless you were looking for it.

The technology for quiet drones exist (blade design) it’s just that companies don’t give a fuck. Maybe with regulation...

Yes, I am very surprised that a simple blade replacement can have such an impact on noise. The difference is so big, I can not understand why noisy blades are still sold. This kind of improvement should have occur since many years.

It's an efficiency trade-off. Larger blades for example add more weight and cost, but can rotate slower.

Cheap drones are much louder than they have to be. Larger & slower blades make less noise. A full-size electric airplane can be quite quiet.

It might be a fantastic tradeoff, considering how loud vehicles are anyway, and how much it might improve car traffic and shorten rush hour.

True. If it were up to me I'd move all transport under ground. We pay exhorbitantly in quality of life having car-centric cities.

Even small drones are awful from 100’ away. Scaling that up will certainly be loud enough to be a problem in most urban areas

While this will be significantly louder than a drone it will also be much lower pitch so might be less irritating to the human ear. Less like a mosquito on steroids! Still far worse than silence of course but perhaps not much worse than road traffic noise unless you are directly under a common flight path?

The propellers create noise due to turbulence

> Much too loud for even a small number of people to use them without high noise pollution in any urban area.

Have you lived in a city before?

I go out to the street, and all I hear is cars passing by.

I go into my apartment, and I hear the drone of my A/C. When it shuts off, the drone of the exterior A/C of a nearby building starts up. Then one couple below me start yelling at each other. A dog starts barking across the street behind my house. A subway car rumbles by below me. Later, a freight train blares in the distance.

And you think a little "whrrrrr" above my building for 6 seconds is going to register??

I have lived in the Adams Point neighborhood in Oakland that has a population density of 32,000 per square mile for over a decade. This is about the same density as Brooklyn. It is right next to the I-580 (but is luckily below grade by this neighborhood), near the 980/24 freeway and 1/2 mile from downtown Oakland. No AC and no AC from my neighbors. I'm thankful for that as a few new buildings do have AC and walking by them is not very pleasant in an otherwise relaxing evening stroll.

I know many of my next door neighbors and luckily don't have any habitual yellers or badly trained dogs near to me. Early morning garbage trucks once a week and gardeners leaf blowing in front of leafless condos is the biggest noise problems. Cars are not so noisy as the narrow street keeps most people driving under 25 mpg. I can hear the freight trains as they pass through Jack London square, but that is a couple of miles away. Maybe I have just stumbled upon a high density urban setting that somehow is not so noisy compared to others. Have you walked around Paris? There are lots of quiet streets right in the middle of the city.

Maybe a million of these flying around the Bay would be fine and I'd love to see them work and then tested out for noise. I sure hope they are so quiet you would not notice them. Traffic congestion is making living in the Bay Area much more unpleasant than it could be.

As long as we're putting trains in those tunnels! Cars on freeways or sleds don't carry nearly as many people/hour.

> Cars on freeways or sleds don't carry nearly as many people/hour.

Almost entirely because of how car ownership is structured now. People most often buy 4dr cars and only use 1-2 seats 90% of the time.

A subscription-based self-driving fleet car system would change this dynamic where you only order a 4dr+ car/SUV/van for a ride when needed.

Otherwise a small 2dr electric vehicle without a large front motor will likely be the default in the future.

On-demand cars will be great for the environment and efficiency of highways...

Not to mention there has been some talk about self-driving cars linking up like trains on freeways to conserve energy and better utilize space at very high speeds.

I am optimistic about self driving cars, but we also lower to floor of possible vehicle occupancy to 0. I'm curious to see if average occupancy goes up or down.

Linking up cars sounds great! Maybe we could make the cars electric. And we could create escape hatches to walk between them. We could make them shorter so the car is essentially a seat. And then we could make them 100% subscription based and shared so you never take them away. I think I might just have reinvented trains!

Our obsession with automobiles borders on insanity. Yes, the last mile is hard to do with public transit but for high capacity, high cost thoroughfares trains win every time.

> but we also lower to floor of possible vehicle occupancy to 0

That's a great point that I hadn't yet considered. In terms of finite energy resource demand it's not as big of a deal when the average car both smaller and electric. But in terms of traffic and related resource utilization this will ultimately become a far more common phenomenon, even possibly in the top 1-2 most frequent scenarios as driverless cars attempt to reach a new client or drive to the closest automated charging port.

I'd be curious to see the traffic/resource impact of such a hypothetical scenario. Although I anticipate some smarter people than me are already calculating these costs. At least I hope so!

I'm really hoping we can take advantage of the start of driverless cars to implement a per kilometer and also demand driven tax/toll system.

The current method of funding roads with fuel tax won't work any more, and it doesn't make sense for the taxpayer to pay for roads if they barely use a car and take public transport. I am optimistic this method of taxing cars will make public transport much more attractive, especially in peak, and encourage off peak driving. This will be especially important for empty cars - they don't care about congestion so without a tax would fill up the road for extremely unimportant tasks.

This also gives the option of different rates if the vehicle is empty or not - I have no idea if an empty vehicle should be charged more or less, but it's good we have time to think through these things!

I am interested how the politics of this will work out - in Sydney the government often builds toll roads when rail would be more appropriate as they can privatise roads and get additional income. This leads to the government building more freeways to the airport when we already have a fast train there (which has a huge station access fee as a result of a previously botched public/private partnership).

By trains do you mean buses? or lots of buses. Or how about many buses mixed with cars. You should do a quick Fermi calculation and you will find that with a close packed stream of single passenger vehicles at 200kph, the people/hour is higher that BART at rush hour. Use vehicles where people stand and are packed like sardines, as it is on BART at rush hour, and then you are getting a crazy high people/hour.

If you really need to have all new transportation systems be public trains to feel good about building it, then, yes, there will be public trains in these tunnels.

Buses are good too, though bus rapid transit doesn't have the appeal of trains. I'm not sure if this is a problem inherent to buses or BRT systems having worse service on average giving them a bad image.

200kph close packed cars would be nice, though you have to deal with:

- Close packing which definitely needs autonomous driving. I want something we can build in 2018.

- Merging at 200kph in tunnels. Those on and off ramps are expensive to dig.

- Load balancing between on/off ramps. If everyone wants to get off the same exit at 200kph I don't know where the load goes when you have to transition to 50kph traffic. Are you going to disallow exiting from an off ramp if it's at capacity and would slow down the tunnel? Where do these people get off?

- Where do you park all of these cars? That's a hell of a lot of downtown parking! How much does downtown land cost per square metre, multiplied by the area of the sum of cars in the city?

Trains solve all these problems, and more importantly are here right now! It's not a technical problem, it's a political one. I don't understand the obsession with all these far off possibilities that might be better than rail.

I'm just as big a fan of Elon Musk as the next person but Hyperloop has given a lot of ammunition to opponents of rail. "Hyperloop/The Boring Company is coming so we shouldn't build efficient metros that are already implemented in Japan/China/Europe and reduce reliance on cars and foreign oil."

"lose packing which definitely needs autonomous driving. I want something we can build in 2018"

Yes, automatic driving only in these tunnels. Current tech in a Tesla Car (and some others) would already be able to automatically drive in a tunnel today with very short spacing, no problem. Here in 2018.

"Merging at 200kph in tunnels. Those on and off ramps are expensive to dig."

Yes. Tunnels are expensive. They are getting more expensive to dig. Thus the Boring company. This is the biggest problem with a tunnel system, but tunneling for trains is not cheaper.

"Load balancing between on/off ramps."

An automatic car can know if an off ramp is going to be full. Pay extra(congestion pricing, progressives love that) to exit or take one before or after.

"Where to park" Automatic electric car goes back home until Miller Time or is rented to other people for the day.

Rail is not a point to point system. This is the problem. How are you getting trains to within a 5 minute walking distance of everyone's home in LA and can go direct (no train transfers) to a 5 minute walk to anywhere else they want to go. Not likely. With this system, being a 5 minute drive to the nearest tunnel entrance and then the connected tunnel system puts you out with a 5 minute drive to your destination. This would be possible.

The great thing about cities are the people. Being able to have a huge set of people that people can interact with and have long term relationships with. Groups formed by these people. I think it would be cool to have a city where most people can have a piece of land to grow things on and also have the possible interaction and long term relationships with >10 million other humans.

"Pay extra(congestion pricing, progressives love that) to exit or take one before or after."

It's a physical impossibility, no congestion pricing will make more supply.

If it's 8:30am on a weekday, and you have a large suburban area serviced by a tunnel exiting in a much smaller downtown area, how will there ever be enough exits?

Have you seen how crowded a European train station is at peak hour? All these cars would have to go somewhere.

Some back of the napkin maths in an ideal scenario: 200kph = 55.5556ms tunnel, 1 lane, 3 metre windscreen to next windscreen distance (car length + distance in between).

55.556 / 3 = 18.51 ish cars/second = 66,636 cars per hour.

This site [1] says LA's average off peak average speed is 26.8mph. Super rough estimate. This graph [2] says 26.8mph gives you ~1800 cars/hour/lane.

So that's 37 downtown lanes per one lane of 200kph Boring Tunnel traffic. 37 lanes are 3.7m wide, so that's 137 metres wide!

Sydney's current trains take 28,000 people per hour [3] in the real world, in 2018, driven by humans, with humans exiting stations. Put in 2 - 3 train lines underground, which is say 6 metres wide, chuck a station on top with escalators pumping people in and out, and people can walk through the city. Put a park on top.

Sydney Central Station has 27 platforms, 10 underground. That's like 280,000 people per hour on the underground lines by those dodgy estimates, or 5 x 200kph 3 back to back traffic lanes (not tested yet), or 185 lanes of 26mph traffic which is ¾ of a kilometre wide! And it was built in 1906 out of sandstone! There are ~ 5 CBD stations in Sydney. A 925 lane wide road sounds like fun. And its here in 2018 and it costs me AU$1.50 to use.

Cars don't belong in cities. Cars belong in the suburbs, which is where they can drive you to your train station. Tokyo's Shinkansen was opened in 1964 and went 220kph. If the train is more than 1 minute off the timetable you get an apology letter for your employer. They took the original trains out of service in 2008. The USA is so behind.

As I said, transport isn't a technical problem, it's a political one.

The future is here (high speed rail), it just isn't evenly distributed yet.

[1]: http://infinitemonkeycorps.net/projects/cityspeed/

[2]: http://moderntransit.org/solution.html

[3]: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-11/barry-ofarrell-sydney-...

I live at the bottom of a steep sided valley. About 5 miles away is an RAF site, they regularly fly two or three helicopters up our valley under the radar and it is super super noisy.

But those wankers on bikes with loud pipes are still the noisiest.

In conclusion I'm not that bothered by flying cars. If you want to reduce noise in my area, get electric bikes on the road.

One of the things I noticed about living in China is the noise difference due to the illegality of riding petrol motorcycles in the cities. It’s a really nice change. Too bad people beep their car horns constantly.

I wonder if gliders that are powered by electric motors only during takeoff and landing could be a solution here. It's not like we get very annoyed by eagles soaring in the sky.

Takeoff and landing are probably always going to be the noisiest part thrust-powered flight.

That is a good point... So now I'm back to the giant slingshot idea.

What about a buried rail gun, as a less explosive version of the columbiad in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon? You'd step on to a circular platform, get slowly lowered into the barrel, then shot into the sky, where the wings would open :)

Acceleration profile could be the issue here.

Scott Addams got there first.


Takeoff, in particular (as you have to build up kinetic and potential energy). For landing, you could glide in without thrust.

I was more concerned with all those open propellers. I would have expected them to be either shrouded or even a simple prop protector; think wire ring; to keep them from inadvertently colliding with people or objects.

Depends on the location. Tunnels are great for cities but flying cars make more sense for suburbs or the countryside, where building long sparse tunnels isn't worth it.

"any urban area"

I agree.

>Helicopters and planes are bad enough and they are quite rare

go to Bogota and tell me you think taking a helicopter around the city is rare.

anti-gravity will come about by necessity, until we have flying taxis we might not need it (that much)

Hijacking the thread to ask others opinions how much such aircraft could be scaled: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nbMrxJo64M

Ekranoplans where around for a while. Uses ground effect to fly quite fast and efficiently. Imagine we made a solar wing, instead of propellers, use water propellers to push for extra efficiency. Anyone wanna do the math?

Would love to see them partner with Passerine Aircraft Corp.


Wonder how this compares in size to Dubai's flying taxis. This one seems like it takes up more space.

Article doesn't mention where they're going to build all the helipads for what are really battery powered autonomous helicopters.

Do I have to take a normal taxi to the airport or an elevator to the top floor of the nearest high rise to get a ride?

Thats a very large meat grinder!

Oh, now I see thay have both high and low-wing configurations. The high-winged one is obviously much safer from the grinding aspect.

If they can make a "flying taxi" airplane that isn't unsafe, isn't obnoxiously loud, isn't energy-guzzling, doesn't require undue landing/takeoff space, and is scalable beyond the ultra-elite, great!

But how many of those criteria do you think that even Page could get, simultaneously? Two, maybe three? Flying cars are known for being a somewhat difficult engineering problem; that they've been hard enough to prevent partial solutions may turn out to have been a blessing.

And it's not like there aren't other solutions to transportation issues, either.

I'm not much of an airplaneologist, but this looks like a deathtrap to me. I appreciate all of the efforts in new transportation modes though.

I'm not going to criticize that particular aircraft, no. I respect the effort it took to get it up in the air. But everyone is building an electric, pilotless vehicle for ride sharing, which also happens to be an oversized RC multicopter. Like trying to put Tesla, Uber and DJI products and business models into the blender and get guaranteed receipt for success. I'd love to see more thinking outside of context here.

Anyone have any idea on what percentage of the energy budget is spent on vertical takeoff? Just curious.

I prefer the term air-taxi.

I think this is an industry worth growing, but hopefully it won't become too mainstream. Not sure we want thousands of these flying above our heads every day. I like Musk's underground transit plan a bit more.


I wonder how expansive it would have to be to be cost effective.

Also, can it lands in the streets? is that safe ?

To reduce noise you could shoot something with extremely noisy electric ducted fans out of a big tube (tower), and get it to land into another big tube elsewhere.

By the time the vehicle has left the tube it's high enough where noise at ground level cannot be heard.

Something with blades could also carry less juice (or none) and glide to its destination.

Am I the only one that finds these unprotected rotating blades unsettlingly dangerous?

No. That's one reason why I much prefer the Volocopter (where the rotating blades are high above you, like in a conventional helicopter) to the eHang 184, where they seem to be aimed at your kneecaps.

Doesn't Dubai already have air taxis? Would that be a good pilot area?

Literally the vehicles described in Brave New World. Life imitating art.

How much does a ride cost? I'm very price sensitive.

Helicopter in Germany costs you 15-25€/minute. There is room for 3 passengers. You can negotiate if booking more time. The flying taxi should be less than that.

The long term maintenance costs of the aircraft will drive the cost structure and those are unknown right now. I suspect the price at launch is going to way lower than what most consumers would think is possible.

I don't get it. Musk (boring company) and Page (air-taxi) are pumping money in a few garbage projects.

Why don't they even try to accelerate and bring relevant technology to the masses?

When I interviewed with Uber, I met an engineer who had worked for Page @ Kitty Hawk directly before joining Otto (which as we know got acquired immediately by Uber). I don't know that I really have a point, except I found it interesting to hear first-hand about another "Alphabet" (technically page's non-alphabet venture) crossover to Uber.

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