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Autonomous flying taxi nears reality after Boeing conducts test flight

For most people, autonomous flying taxi is yet another science fiction concept, even after the first successful tests were conducted more than a year ago. While the futuristic technology has a long way to go before becoming a common mode of urban transport, Boeing (BA) is making significant advancements in developing a commercially viable air taxi that flies on its own.

In an indication that the aircraft maker might face competition from arch-rival Airbus in the new venture also, the latter is reportedly gearing up for advanced tests on its unmanned flying taxi prototype later this month.  Last year, the drone-shaped CityAirbus had passed the early tests.

Boeing this week completed the first test flight of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which is being developed for Uber Air. The battery-powered air taxi was designed in partnership with Bell, a subsidiary of helicopter manufacturer Textron (TXT).

Boeing this week completed the first test flight of its electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, which is being developed for Uber Air

The prototype which has a range of 50 miles hovered for a short while at the test filed in Virginia and landed smoothly. The test also covered takeoff and ground control systems. In the next phase, forward movement and wing-borne flight will be tested, in addition to the highly critical vertical-forward transition.

“Boeing’s expertise and innovation have been critical in developing aviation as the world’s safest and most efficient form of transportation, and we will continue to lead with a safe, innovative and responsible approach to new mobility solutions,” said Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer at Boeing.

After record deliveries in 2018, Boeing sees a fruitful year ahead

Meanwhile, Uber is going ahead with the goal of starting commercial operation by 2023, which experts believe is too ambitious considering the stringent regulatory scrutiny. Moreover, the self-driving aircraft will have to demonstrate that its safety system is foolproof as it depends on sensors and artificial intelligence to operate. Once operational, Uber’s on-demand air taxi service is expected to transport passengers within the cities.

Boeing has been working on the idea of pilotless air taxi for more than a year, all along trying to outpace Airbus and Volocopter, an early-stage aviation startup based in Germany. Recently, the company said its aircraft deliveries hit a record high last year, outperforming Airbus. While the near-term outlook for the aircraft industry remains bullish, there are concerns the ongoing trade war between the US and China might play spoilsport.

After gaining about 5% over the past twelve months, Boeing shares traded higher in the early hours of Thursday’s regular session.

 

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