Whether you think it’s “insane” or “genius,” one thing is certain about Lift Aircraft’s aspiring “air taxi” business: it isn’t going to be boring.
A startup from Texas, Lift Aircraft was founded in 2017 when engineer and entrepreneur Matt Chasen convinced various private investor groups of venture capital and private equity investors to back his vision of creating—essentially—jetpacks with doors.
Since then all has been quiet on the ‘drones you can hop in’ front. Until today, when the media embargo was lifted and they unveiled ‘Hexa’, a flirty little 18-rotor craft.
We’re thrilled to publicly announce @LIFTAircraft today and unveil our #eVTOL aircraft, #Hexa. We believe in a future where everyone can fly – and that future starts today. Join our waitlist to fly in your city: https://t.co/4Gb5jvhGTO #UrbanAirMobility https://t.co/2w5yofWpDt
— LIFT Aircraft Inc. (@LIFTAircraft) December 12, 2018
As reported by TechCrunch; “It just flew for the first time last month, and could be taking passengers aloft as early as next year.”
But before you inner city commuters get your hopes up: this one’s designed for “short recreational flights.”
So how long do we have to wait before we can call an airborne Uber and give gridlock the bird?
About a decade, reveals Matt Chasen, in a press release: “Multi-seat eVTOL air taxis, especially those that are designed to transition to wing-borne flight, are probably 10 years away and will require new regulations and significant advances in battery technology to be practical and safe.”
In light of this, Lift Aircraft’s plan appears to be; complete their R & D while competition is low, wait for regulation to catch up with technology (a la Uber and Lyft), then strike with the perfect product as soon as it does.
“We didn’t want to wait for major technology or regulatory breakthroughs to start flying… We’ll be flying years before anyone else.”
As reported by Motherboard, “Chasen’s (end) goal is to use an app, Uber style, to allow users to hop in and out of the aircraft at predetermined locations at a cost of around $20 a flight.”
This, of course, seems insane. But as transportation journalist John Surico reminded Motherboard, revolutionary technologies invariably seem crazy at first: “When cars first came out (they) were seen as threats, they were seen as toxic, they were seen as dangerous, and then cars took over America.”
Oh and there’s already a waitlist. So it seems people are keen regardless of whether the government approves.
And in terms of viability, while TechCrunch expressed reservations of its own, it had to admit: “There’s something to be said for proving your design in a comparatively easily accessed market and moving up, rather than trying to invent an air taxi business from scratch.”
For now though, for anyone interested in giving the concept a whirl: Lift Aircraft’s ultralight classification means you don’t even need a pilot’s license to use it (recreationally).
This means that taking one of these bad girls for a spin will be possible, as soon as Lift Aircraft find a city willing to provide permits for its ‘drone riding experience’ (in addition to safety considerations, the craft is, Chasen admits, “Not very loud, but… not whisper-quiet, either”). The company hope to get this all sorted out by next year.
As for how it works: “The Hexa is flown with a single joystick and an iPad; direct movements and attitude control are done with the former, while destination-based movement, take-off and landing take place on the latter,” (TechCrunch).
This is made significantly easier, Lift Aircraft explain, as the whole area is 3D mapped prior to flight. And (just to put your mind at ease), many of the system’s 18 electric motors are—in a good way!—redundant (i.e. the drone will still work without them).
While this is supposed to be a safety feature, your vertiginous author still reckons it sounds ominous. But if you possess the cojones to cavort across the sky in one of these contraptions: more power to you.
Just don’t crash until they’ve got permission to get the whole “Uber of the skies” gig going (scared of heights as we are, we’d take that over dodging grown men riding scooters and lycra wearing cyclists any day).