Toyota Bet Big on Flying Taxis

Not content with a massive investment in autonomous cars and driverless taxis, Toyota is now making a substantial investment in the development of airborne cars. The company has just taken up a US$384 million stake in Joby Aviation, a company based in Santa Cruz, California with the grandiose mission of being first to market with an electric-powered air taxi designed to whisk people from A to B high above the gridlocked city streets.

Distinctly similar to the Hyundai offering.

This now makes Joby possibly the best-funded company in the category of VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft, even though there are still very significant regulatory hurdles to overcome. Their offering resembles an up-scaled toy drone with six propellers and five seats. The aim is for this particular flying taxi to be capable of flying about 240 kilometres at about 350 kph on a single charge whilst carrying four passengers and a pilot.

The Joby differs from most of the rivals, such as Kitty Hawk’s Cora which are being designed to fly without a pilot. But like many of the development machines that have been announced, this one also features propellers that move between vertical and horizontal thrust.

The fact that this will initially be a piloted vehicle may well give it a headstart in what could be a crowded field as there are sure to be far fewer regulatory issues to overcome if you do not push the boundaries of technology too far. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Joby is already in partnership with UBER to develop air taxis for two cities in the US of A and, of course, Toyota is a major investor in UBER.

Toyota CEO and President Akio Toyoda is known to see air transportation as an emerging market that Toyota should be present in and it is fully expected that the new air taxi will be a feature of the ‘Woven City” Toyota is building to showcase their innovative designs. They are not alone, though: Airbus and Hyundai are also developing an air taxi with Uber; Kitty Hawk, owned by Google founder Larry Page, is working with Boeing; and following at the rear is Volocopter, a Geely/Volvo/Lotus/Mercedes mish-mash.

Possibly the greatest challenge is to get regulatory approval. In the past few years, the FAA and EASA have released special guidelines to help the development of commercial air taxis, but there are still issues with the management of regulating municipal airspace and, of course, the creation of Airports (or should that be drone ports?) that can support frequent landing and the charging requirements. Of course, you could argue that we already have helicopters that could fulfil the function of airborne taxis, but they are incredibly expensive to build, fly and maintain—they are also very noisy and crash spectacularly when there is a mechanical failure.

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