Though investment opportunities abound in the world of aerial mobility – for those patient enough to play the long game – staying abreast of the key technological challenges still standing in the way of viable, widespread electric air taxi service is important. It helps to temper expectations and filter out the hype.
This is especially true because the industry is having a bit of an early reckoning, with instigator and cheerleader Uber offloading the Elevate programme that helped spawn the movement back in 2016. Whether you think this is merely the first domino to fall in an effort that’s already incomprehensibly ambitious, or merely an inevitable hiccup – likely one of many – the move reinforces the lesson that nothing in aviation is a foregone conclusion. Supporters may waver, companies may fail, and necessary innovations may not materialize.
For an industry based entirely on the arrival of a new kind of aircraft, using new propulsion technologies and powered by the same batteries that have so far required massive innovation just to push a car 320km, many challenges remain-and yes, batteries are a big part of it.
“The low energy density of batteries continues to force eVTOL makers to make significant design tradeoffs, resulting in performance that can only marginally meet customer mission requirements,” warns Ben Marcus, co-founder of venture-capital firm UP.Partners, which formed this year to invest in the necessary building blocks of the flying car business.
“The industry must also develop autonomy systems that significantly improve the safety of vertical-lift aircraft relative to human-piloted helicopters before they will make a significant difference in the daily commutes of millions of people.”