21st Century: The Era of Ubiquitous Flying
Technological innovation has played a profound role not just in the invention of increasingly advanced products but also in these products’ affordability and accessibility to the masses. Take transportation technology, for instance. Until the beginning of the 20th Century, people commuted via horses and covered wagons. The automobile was restricted to the rich until Henry Ford came along and revolutionized the assembly line to build a car that an average American worker could afford. It’s interesting to observe that since then, the automobile numbers have in fact, overshot beyond their intended levels leading to over congestion. Why is that? With a sustained rise in the economic growth over the years thanks to the emerging opportunities and higher standards of living accompanying them, the world is witnessing extensive urbanization. Indeed, Lockheed Martin predicts that by 2030, the 40 megacities covering less than 0.1% of the earth’s surface will be home to 9% of the world’s population contributing about 20% of the global GDP. In the aforementioned scenario, road traffic management remains an unsolvable crisis.
The possibility of over-congestion, not to forget the subsequent increase in greenhouse emissions, has been a subject of discussion since the 70s. Efforts of implementing on-demand rental services by leveraging space were made during the same period but failed due to reasons including accidents, noise, maintenance and operational complexity. 2008 marked the onset of the electric vehicle revolution, which accelerated further as Tesla designed and manufactured cheaper and lighter batteries over time while opening their patents for everyone to contribute. With widespread electric vehicle adoption evident from an astounding 180X sales increase in the 7 year period ending 2017, the very idea of electric aviation as a potential solution for combating urban traffic congestion emerged.
The impact of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is being felt all over the world, with about 70 companies innovating in this space globally. Launched in 2017, Voom, in collaboration with Airbus, is reinventing helicopter transportation by making it an ideal mode of travel for urban commuters. With 80% lower prices than that of a standard heli-service, the company is aiming to drive down the costs further through electric choppers. With plans to launch in 2023, Uber Elevate is working towards a vision where eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles) will become the most affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car. Think about the consequences: a fleet of electric vehicles flying and disrupting the very way of travelling from one point to another without any noise pollution. A drastic decrease in death calls, especially in the number of heart attacks as air-ambulances arrive and deliver the necessary patient care with no untimely delay. Significant reduction in casualties during a calamity with air-rescue services transporting people to a safe location efficiently. Not to forget, the synergistic effect of incorporating UAM into the e-commerce ecosystem, resulting in the initiation of a chain reaction leading to tremendous value generation for all the current and upcoming businesses. One’s imagination truly limits its possible applications!
A fascinating aspect of eVTOLs emerges from the fact that these vehicles don’t require any runway for their operation. The infrastructure supporting these, termed as ‘vertiports’ ends up taking a tiny portion of the land as compared to the traditional airports. Although setting up an entirely new infrastructure remains the greatest operational barrier for an eVTOL fleet, the long-term outlook is breathtaking. A near possibility of complete ground transportation disruption would essentially make the whole road and rail network obsolete. Land availability could be utilized to support rocket launch pads, which is also expanding drastically with companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic redefining private space travel. Large-scale afforestation would be possible for regrowing the green cover that was once wiped out by industrialization, thereby curbing global warming. With the current impetus in growth, the 21st Century will mark the era where the sky won’t be a limit anymore.
Pictured: Volocopter X2 scale model