Flying taxis aren’t the stuff of science fiction. In fact, Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2030, intrepid passengers will take over 1 billion flights along fixed routes in drones it expects will fly autonomously, without pilots. In anticipation of this road-free future, Bosch today unveiled a new sensor box for air vehicles that it describes as “plug-and-play.”
The sensor suite consists of microelectromechanical — or MEMS — acceleration sensors that record the aircraft’s movements, along with built-in yaw-rate sensors that track its angle of attack. Magnetic field sensors gauge compass headings, while pressure sensors — which measure altitude from barometric pressure — determine the vehicle’s current speed.
According to Bosch, the sensor box’s chief advantages compared with conventional solutions are that it’s lightweight and compact. That’s in part because it uses some of the same sensors found in the company’s automated driving and ESP anti-skid systems.
“Through our Bosch solution, we aim to make civil aviation with flying taxis affordable for a wide range of providers. Compared to today’s means of transportation, flying taxis save time on trips of six miles or more, with a maximum range of up to 180 miles,” said Bosch senior manager Marcus Parentis, who added that the company is working with “a wide range of players” in the air taxi field to integrate the sensors. “We are talking to air taxi manufacturers from the aerospace and automotive industries, as well as with startups that build air vehicles and are looking to provide sharing services. The question isn’t whether flying taxis will become reality, but when.”
Parentis’ unbridled optimism isn’t baseless. Experts predict that air taxis will begin ferrying customers in earnest within three years, and that these taxis could start flying autonomously or semi-autonomously as early as 2025. Analysts at Roland Berger forecast 3,000 flying taxis will be in operation globally in five years, a number which they say will increase to 12,000 by 2030 and to nearly 100,000 by 2050.
Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley projects the market for flying taxis will reach $1.5 trillion by 2040, which is likely why there’s sustained interest from the private sector.
Just last week, German startup Lilium Jet completed the first test of its five-seater aircraft. Chinese electronics conglomerate Ehang intends to build a fleet of passenger-carrying quadcopters in the next few years. Google cofounder Larry Page’s Kittyhawk received backing from the New Zealand government for its self-piloting, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) air taxi. And Volocopter’s 18-propeller passenger drone recently completed test flights over Dubai, aiming to beat ride-hailing giant Uber to the punch with the world’s first drone taxi system.
Air taxis from AeroMobil, Vertical Aeorospace, Joby Aviation, Airbus, Boeing, and Bell are in various stages of development, as well, in addition to over 100 such electric aircraft worldwide. Bosch expects drone test flights to ramp up in cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, and Singapore next year.
“Bosch plans to play a leading role in shaping this future market,” said president of the Bosch Automotive Electronics division Harald Kröger.