In November 2017, it was announced that Uber and NASA have partnered to begin developing a pilot project for air taxis. Coined Uber “Elevate”, the service is expected to have a similar base fare as Uber “X”, creating a new ecosystem for passenger commuting and travel.
On first thought, the idea of flying cars and commuter drones seems out of sight. The reality is that the first manned drone flight has already been successfully completed. In May 2017, California-based Passenger Drone initiated testing on a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft that could be powered both by human pilots and remotely. In August 2017, the first manned flights took place.
The US Government is also realizing the impact that drones and flying vehicles will have. News just broke that President Trump signed a law that will force all drones to be registered with the FAA. European lawmakers passed a similar rule a few weeks back targeting drone registration. Total drone registrations in the US topped 800,000 earlier in 2017 with an estimated growth of over 7 million drones in use by 2020.
With this massive growth comes the concerns of air safety and how to best regulate the future highways of the sky, both for commercial and consumer use. Innovative blockchain companies are jumping at the chance to address this need with everything from safety protocol to marketplaces for future flights.
For example, Blockchain Taxi, a partner of Passenger Drone, is taking the lead on using all of Passenger Drone’s flight data to build out a blockchain-backed protocol. By combining years of historical flight data, Blockchain Taxi wants to create the smart contract ecosystem that can be used by regulators and enterprises to facilitate safe passenger drone and air taxi operations.
Another company in the space, McFly, has modeled out the projected cost of flying a passenger drone versus taking a private jet or Uber. Those figures, come out to roughly $8 per minute of flight time for an Uber Elevate vs. $50 for a typical helicopter ride.
Earlier this year The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a patent titled “Unmanned aerial delivery to secure location,” describing how Wal-Mart could use blockchain technology to automate the logistics of delivery drones. In this example, blockchain technology could be used to authenticate identities, track packages in real-time, and log all critical information on a secured ledger.
Not all news from related blockchains startups has been positive. First mover AERO Token, received a tough critique from ICO rating agency Smith & Crown for having an “incomplete appeal for investor support”. The challenges involved include the economics involved with building out this drone infrastructure as well as legal red flags due to different interpretations of laws.
Despite the challenges, it is safe to assume that manned drone flights and air taxis will eventually be a part of our mainstream transportation culture. Whether used for emergency evacuations or logistics, there are many inner-city hurdles that could be solved using both commercial and passenger drones.