Uber is aiming to launch an autonomous drone flying taxi service in Los Angeles by 2020, having penned a deal with U.S. space agency NASA.(1) Stewart Hamel, founder of SkyRunner, an FAA-certified flying car, validates the “last mile” issue as the critical factor in the future of public transit.
Trying to sell the idea of mass transit or public transportation to an American public in love with its cars—plus the personal freedom and security that goes with them—has traditionally been a difficult sale to make. What has always been missing from the equation was a solution to the “last mile”—those connectivity problems involved in getting riders transported the last few feet/blocks/miles to or from their last mode of transportation to their destination (usually a home or office).(2) “By solving the requirements of both air and land travel with an FAA-certified powersports aircraft (S-LSA) that also functions as a military-grade off road vehicle, we’ve shown what a upcoming door-to-door solution could look like in the future,” says SkyRunner CEO Stewart Hamel.
Last July, the FAA granted a series of exemptions to SkyRunner which included an increase in max take-off weight from 1430-pounds to 1800-pounds, representing a useful load of 580-pounds (pilot, passenger, fuel and luggage). This feature, not typically found on paraplanes (PPC) or light sport aircraft, put it on the list of the top S-LSA aircraft in the world. (3)
The July FAA ruling also granted an exemption allowing student pilots to use the SkyRunner in their flight training and to have the hours completed be considered as flight time acquired in a light sport aircraft for the purposes of sports pilot certification.
According to Hamel, despite the best efforts of city planners to solve the riddles of public transportation policy, solving complex issues such as traffic congestion and environmental pollution can become realistic only if and when last mile connectivity is resolved. What increases farebox receipts and makes various mass transit modes economically feasible is riders’ use of public buses, shuttles, short-routed trams, bicycles, scooters, etc., and this is dependent on what’s called “true walkability”—the safety, distance, geography and other factors that create easy pedestrian access to them.(2) Hamel agrees with Elon Musk, who pointed out that transit that picks you up at your door isn’t an elite taste, it’s become the industry standard. (5)
At least 19 companies are trying to enter the air taxi space race, among them Boeing and Airbus. The most aggressive is Uber, which plans to pilot its aerial taxi service by 2020 in Dallas-Fort Worth, Dubai, and now Los Angeles, and they—and the others—face significant hurdles. Uber envisions transporting passengers rooftop-to-rooftop using vertical take-off and landing in autonomous vehicles, to and from futuristic infrastructures, and compliant with regulations, all of which remain in development. (4) (2)
“The solution to the last mile dilemma is inspired by the significant discoveries and visions of these technological giants,” Hamel concluded.