- Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell Helicopter debuted its urban air taxi cabin design and user experience at CES in Las Vegas this week.
- The four-passenger electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) will serve as an "on-demand mobility" service. Passengers will have the capability to sync to an integrated user control center where they can hold video conference calls, catch up on news or share documents.
- During early stages of Bell's air taxi roll-out, pilots — known as "mission managers" — will steer the taxis to ensure rider safety and confidence. However, the taxis will "eventually be fully autonomous" as technology advances and people become "more comfortable" with the concept, according to a spokesperson at Bell Helicopter.
In a company press statement, Bell Helicopter President and CEO Mitch Snyder said, "The future of urban air taxi is closer than many people realize." And this may well be true. The concept of "flying taxis" may seem futuristic, but so did the concept of on-demand, app-based taxi service — until it became an urban necessity. In fact, ride-sharing giant Uber is a main proponent of the air taxi movement, and is working closely with Bell Helicopter to develop the service in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Uber is also working in Los Angeles to deploy its uberAIR service, and estimates that 200 mph rides across the skies of Los Angeles will be "price competitive" with typical uberX rides of the same distance. Though information about the construction of Skyports in both Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as service routes and who will test the services, is still unknown.
The idea of flying in a fully autonomous air taxi is also curious, as traditional helicopters still require specialized pilot training to comply with federal regulations. The autonomous vehicle market is facing a number of safety and technical obstacles as cities and automakers race to deploy AV services, and until consumers have full confidence in driverless vehicles, it's unlikely there will be consumer confidence in air taxis.
By offering augmented reality simulation rides during the CES event, Bell Helicopter was able to prove their concept to attendees and at least stamp the industry with something to look forward to — even if air taxi deployment doesn't happen in the near future. Though, as technologies advance and more stakeholders come on board, the trend of electric VTOLs will be one to watch.