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Boeing takes its self-flying air taxi out for a short test flight

Now wait just a hot minute…

boeing self-flying vehicle in air
Image: Boeing

The dystopian cyberpunk future laid out in Shadowrun and Neuromancer is one step closer today. Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, completed the first test flight of its autonomous passenger air vehicle on Wednesday.

This electrically-powered VTOL lifted off, hovered for about a minute, then returned to terra firma. Future tests will include the transition to forward-flight mode, something that’s been historically tricky for VTOLs like the Osprey to achieve safely.

Boeing is claiming this as an important milestone for its NeXt division, which is responsible for developing autonomous aircraft. They envision small, self-flying airplanes as the next revolution of transportation, especially in heavily congested cities. While Boeing is one of the largest players in the aerodrome, there’s also a growing number of eVTOL startups, including several that Google’s Larry Page owns.

The one being highlighted here is likely one of the ‘air taxis’ that are being developed for Uber. Aurora Flight Sciences is one of the five partners of Uber’s flying car network, Uber Elevate, which wants to bring ridesharing to the air, delivering passengers, food, and other items. The other partners are Karem, Embraer, and Pipistrel, and Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters).

Check it out

Uber wants air taxis to be commercially available by 2023. That’s a lofty aim, with the necessary technology still very much a work in progress. The goals for autonomous flight are even further out if the mishaps in ground-based autonomous vehicles like Tesla and Waymo are any indication.

Uber Air’s vision is for riders to call for an air taxi, which will then meet them at the top of their building, before flying to the next destination. I don’t know about you, but going up to the roof of a skyscraper kinda unnerves me, so it’ll be interesting to see what the adoption rate is once the fleet is actually ready.

Until then, I’ll be keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground.

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