The sky is soon to be a very different place.
Remember life before Uber? Getting a ride from a taxi by sticking your arm out from a street corner seems almost quaint now. The same is true of delivery. The Amazon-led explosion of in-home delivery of everything you want off the internet has placed us on the precipice of a wild new revolution in getting stuff from point A to point B. It’s time to meet eVTOL aircraft.
eVTOL (pronounced eee-vee-toll) is short for electric vertical takeoff and landing, and it’s not an entirely new concept. Some might call eVTOL aircraft “flying cars,” but they’re more accurately called electric helicopters. A regular helicopter is a VTOL (as in it takes off up-and-down vertically, rather than rolling down a runway like an airplane), and if you make it electric, then it’s an eVTOL.
Basically, every modern consumer drone is a miniature eVTOL. Those small drones are good at carrying small cargo like cameras or vaccines, but now eVTOLs are getting bigger. Much bigger.
The technology around eVTOL has been developing almost as quickly as the tech underlying consumer drones - and the investment money is pouring in.
For example, earlier this year, eVTOL maker Joby Aviation raised $1.6 billion, bringing in new money from Uber, BlackRock, and Fidelity. This month, UPS announced plans to buy eVTOL aircraft from Beta Technologies to “more quickly and sustainably transport time-sensitive deliveries.” Meanwhile, German eVTOL firm Volocopter recently brought former Daimler head Dr. Dieter Zetsche on as an advisor and counts Daimler, Intel, Continental, and Geely as investors. It’s raised more than €322 million to develop passenger and cargo craft. It’s also working with Singapore to launch electric air-taxi services within the city-state.
In short, cash is being exchanged and partnership deals are being signed at a prodigious pace.
There are still many moving parts (pun intended) to the eVTOL equation, but the biggest obstacles are regulatory. To get approval for commercial passenger travel, aircraft manufacturers need to prove to government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration that their aircraft are incredibly safe.
For new aircraft like eVTOLs, this process will likely take many years. That said, several eVTOL firms, including Joby Aviation, believe they can begin commercial passenger travel as soon as 2024.