Flying robotaxis are no longer restricted to science fiction. They are already a part of this world, or at least they will be as the first commercial flying robotaxi is set to hit markets sometime next year, with private firms like Astro Aerospace Ltd., Workhorse Group Inc., Kitty Hawk Corp., EHang Air Mobility Group, Volocopter GmbH and Lilium GmbH having already sent prototypes into the air, according to Bloomberg.
What It Means for Investors
EHang Air Mobility Group, China
The first such vessel set to hit markets is Ehang Air Mobility Group’s Ehang 216, which first took flight in 2014 with a range of 22 miles, or 25 minutes of flight time. The 2-passenger, 570-pound aircraft is expected to start selling for $300,000 sometime next year, and is expected to receive strong interest from emergency responders, air taxi services, and tourist flight operators. Ehang is an alumni of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) incubator program formerly known as Microsoft Accelerator.
Volocopter GmbH, Germany
German-based Volocopter GmbH, backed by automaker Daimler AG and Intel Corp. (INTC), is set to open a “Voloport” in Singapore sometime this year for test flights of its Volocopter 2X. The vessel, which had its first flight in 2016, is capable of flying 2 passengers (350 pounds) 17 miles or for 27 minutes. The company expected to begin commercial service as early as 2021.
Kitty Hawk Corp., U.S.
Backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, the Kitty Hawk Cora from Kitty Hawk Corp. first took flight in 2017 with a total range of 62 miles, or 30 minutes of flight time. The drone is capable of whipping 2 passengers (570 pounds) around at an impressive speed of 110 mph. The U.S.-based firm expects the Cora to be used by airlines and rideshare-like services.
Workhorse Group Inc., U.S.
At an impressive range of 225 miles (2.5 hours of flight time), Workhorse Group’s Workhorse SureFly first took flight in 2018. This hybrid gasoline-electric drone is able to carry its 2 passengers (550 pounds) much farther than its rivals as the gasoline engine recharges the battery during the flight. The SureFly is also expected to be impressively priced at less than $200,000. The one caveat: the current model is not yet fully robotic and requires a pilot, but Workhorse says it is working on a remote-control model.
While most of these robotaxis look more like small electric drone-helicopters than flying cars, it likely won’t be long before vehicles that can both drive on city streets and take off into the air hit markets. Airbus and Volkswagen’s Audi are already partnered up in the process of designing one. But analysts at Deloitte don’t expect anything as futuristic as that for at least another six years.