Jetsonian Era Looms: Boeing Is Preparing To Launch Flying Taxis

It is hard to believe the Jetsons, an American animated sitcom produced by Hanna-Barbera, originally airing in 1962, portrayed the life of a space-age family living in 2062 in a futuristic wonderland of elaborate robotic contraptions and whimsical inventions.

It is now 2018, and the year 2062 is less than 44-years away, but already a handful of the Jetsons’ contraptions exist including smartwatches, smart shoes, drones, 3-D printed items, holograms, robotic help, jetpacks, and even flying automobiles.

In particular, the fantasy of flying automobiles zipping around the skies of America could be taking flight within the next ten years.

That is according to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg, who said, “it will happen faster than any of us understand,” in a Bloomberg interview.

“Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable,” he added.

Muilenberg said Boeing has been preparing for the new era of flying urban vehicles, and his company has been designing what would be the “rules of the road for three-dimensional highways” that carry autonomous flying taxis.

Bloomberg claims autonomous air taxis and parcel-hauling drones have the potential to disrupt the transportation industry as we know it, with Boeing and Airbus SE already situating themselves for an era of flying automobiles. Muilenburg claims the window to reshape the transportation industry is now. “Fleets of self-piloted craft could be hovering above city streets and dodging skyscrapers within a decade,” he exclaimed.

According to the latest research by Deloitte, more than a dozen drone and flying automobile manufacturers have already passed conceptualization/design phase, and a majority of the manufacturers are currently exiting the prototype stage into the testing phase, with most manufactures targeting launch/delivery by 2020.

“If safety and regulatory hurdles are cleared, passenger drones are expected to get wings by 2018–2020, and traditional flying cars by 2020–2022, while revolutionary vehicles could be a reality only by 2025,” Deloitte reported.

In the second half of 2017, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) started examining the feasibility of what the government space agency calls “Urban Air Mobility.”

Here is how NASA defines Urban Air Mobility:

Our definition for UAM is a safe and efficient system for air passenger and cargo transportation within an urban area, inclusive of small package delivery and other urban Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) services, which supports a mix of onboard/ground-piloted and increasingly autonomous operations.

“NASA has the knowledge and the expertise to help make urban air mobility happen,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “We plan to conduct the research and development, and test the concepts and technologies that establish feasibility and help set the requirements. Those requirements then serve to make using autonomous vehicles, electric propulsion, and high density airspace operations in the urban environment safe, efficient and economically viable.”

Boeing signaled that it was serious about flying taxis last year by acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences, whose projects include a new flying taxi it is developing with Uber Technologies Inc, said Bloomberg. Other partners on the project include Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter and Embraer SA, a Brazilian aerospace company.

Bloomberg details the major players who are becoming more visible on the playing field of developing urban flying taxis:

Aurora has been inventing autonomous vehicles since the late 1980s, and its portfolio of novel flying machines includes a two-seat robotic copter known as an eVTOL (an abbreviation for electric vertical take-off and landing). For its rideshare of the not-too-distant future, Aurora plans to whisk passengers between rooftop “vertiports.” Test flights could begin as soon as 2020 in Dallas and Dubai, according to the company.

Others are also rushing rotorcraft concepts to market. Vahana, the self-piloting air taxi developed by A3, Airbus’s tech-centric Silicon Valley outpost, completed its first test flight on Jan. 31. Intel Corp. and EHang Inc. are also testing their flying vehicles.

But the next generation of Uber and Lyft Inc. vehicles can’t arrive by air until manufacturers and regulators figure out how to keep them from bumping into buildings, commercial planes, personal drones and each other. That requires leaps in artificial intelligence and sensor technology from today’s personal drones, which mostly fly within sight of operators.

“Right now, what we’re transitioning from is a hobbyist industry to a commercial industry,” said Darryl Jenkins, an aerospace consultant specializing in autonomous vehicles.

Deloitte explains there are numerous potential applications for these new forms of urban mobility vehicles:

Bloomberg mentions U.S. and foreign drone manufactures must demonstrate that catastrophic failures are so remote that they will not happen in a billion flights. Unless if Congress or the FAA eases regulations on standards for autonomous flying vehicles. Boeing and other manufacturers would have to show regulators that their high-tech flying taxis are incredibly reliable.

“It’s extremely costly to certify new aircraft, even when you’re certifying it for a well-established use and with well-established rules,” said Steve Wallace, a former FAA official who oversaw accident investigations and also worked in the agency’s certification branch. “Here we’re trying to open up a whole new use where there aren’t any rules. That’s an enormous task.”

Muilenburg said Boeing is heavily investing in sense-and-avoid systems and other technologies to prevent airborne disaster. “We are making investments there,” he said. “The autonomous car ecosystem is making investments there.”

Since Muilenburg took control of Boeing in 2015, he has expanded investment dollars into futuristic aircraft and created a venture capital arm called HorizonX to further the development of hybrid-electric propulsion.

As Boeing and other major corporations usher in a Jetsonian era of flying automobiles starting in 2020 and beyond. Nearly every automaker and major technology companies are pouring billions into the development of flying automobiles. Will this trend be another bubble, as we have seen many in this Central-Bank-free-money-anything-goes-induced environment, or is there something legitimate here?


Aeonios Dr.Strangelove Sun, 03/04/2018 - 23:36 Permalink

Yeah let's just make a giant drone to ferry people around, because increasing the fuel consumption by a squared factor makes so much economic sense. I can also see idiots getting their arms chopped off by the spinning propellers and sueing. People are already losing fingers to regular drones and these idiots think a giant one is a good idea. Jeenyus.

In reply to by Dr.Strangelove J S Bach Mon, 03/05/2018 - 00:30 Permalink

Why are there so many small aircraft crashes with so few small aircraft flying?

It make me shudder to think what would happen if we replace all of the cars with these flying death traps.

Distracted drivers are responsible for a large part of the 40,000+ traffic fatalities in 2017. 

The U.S. is averaging 6 million traffic accidents per day.

One always has a chance of walking away from a automobile accident.

Not so much for the small, flying aircraft.


In reply to by J S Bach

HotelBread Mon, 03/05/2018 - 08:34 Permalink

The key to this caper will be intelligent transport. Big international consortia have been working on this for many years now -- that's what all those automatic car prototypes are about. The cars will sense each other without a central computer to guide them all, so they will recognize pedestrians, other cars and obstacles. The same technology will work for flying cars. When automatic cars come in, automobile accidents will collapse to zero. People will drive drunk and nobody will care. Then the technology can be extended to flying cars.

In reply to by ACP Mon, 03/05/2018 - 00:34 Permalink

Programmed by a H1-B?

I don't even trust commercial airlines, who have a lot to lose if they kill 400 of their customers in a single malfunction.  How much trust should I  put in a flying vehicle where I am the sole passenger.  How many people have auto manufacturers kill dragging their feet on recalls? 

I'll stick with the road carnage, which I have managed to avoid for 50 years, thank you.

In reply to by ACP

FireBrander Stackers Mon, 03/05/2018 - 00:37 Permalink

Sounds great to everyone who isn't an actual pilot and don't understand that flying through even relatively mild bad weather, especially when temps drop, in light weight small air vehicles is incredibly dangerous and uncomfortable thing to do.

Locally, it seems like every time my flight comes in for a landing there are crosswinds that push that giant plane around like a toy...I don't want to be a Luddite, but riding one of these in 35mph gusts is going to be an "experience" I don't want to have...

In reply to by Stackers any_mouse Mon, 03/05/2018 - 01:51 Permalink

I almost bought the farm returning from Eagle River Wisconsin and landing in a four passenger, one pilot, two engine prop at Pal Waukee airport in Wheeling Illinois.  Although I was a paying customer, due to horrible weather, I was assigned weather monitoring duties in the front passenger seat.  Just as we were about to touch down, an unusually strong cross draft hit us and turned the plane 90 degrees.  I watched in horror as the right wing missed the runway by a couple of feet.  Luckily the pilot was on it and he reflexively adjusted the plane and we landed safely.  The flight was about three hours.  As soon as I disembarked the plane I ran for the bathroom.  The pilot was already standing in front of the urinal.  I'll never know how he got there before me. 

Sorry about your loss.

In reply to by any_mouse

kbohip Stackers Mon, 03/05/2018 - 01:28 Permalink

My dad was a private plane pilot.  He flew a Piper Archer 2.  I laugh at every one of these "flying cars are coming soon" articles because I know it's not going to happen until there are major leaps forward in aviation but more importantly a way to completely take the human factor out of it.

Case in point. Dad used to tell the story of a group of doctors that came out to Colorado from Missouri to go golfing.  They had a small twin-engine plane (I can't remember the model sorry).  Anyway they stayed for a few days golfing here and it was time to go home.  One big problem though, the day they wanted to leave was a real hot one with temps in the 90's.  Well, between the density altitude (6,200' elevation at airport), the 4 men on the plane, and all of their golf clubs and luggage in tow, it proved to be too much for the plane and it crashed on takeoff.

This was a trained pilot and obviously intelligent man that made a critical mistake, even after being warned from the people at the local airport of the danger.  So now they really think normal people are going to do a density altitude calculation, calculate winds, watch the forecast for thunderstorms before and after their flight, etc. etc. etc.?  Nope, sorry never going to happen.  It's all the 23 year old female in front of me can do to keep the car going straight or at a constant speed while she texts and snapchats her commute away.  All they will do is bitch and moan that the computer won't let them get to work and each company will keep pushing the safety parameters a little bit more to ensure that "they get you there when others won't" and they will start crashing.

In reply to by Stackers

the artist kbohip Mon, 03/05/2018 - 01:49 Permalink

There is a great joke about this where 3 lawyers go elk hunting and all want to take their elk home. Reluctantly the bush pilot agrees and they strap on the elk to the pontoons. 

They end up crashing on take off due to lack of altitude but remarkably none are injured. 

"Where are we", asked one lawyer. Pilot says, "I reckon we are about 100 yards from where we crashed last year." 

In reply to by kbohip

European American Stackers Mon, 03/05/2018 - 02:55 Permalink

"Sounds great to everyone who isn't an actual pilot and don't understand that flying through even relatively mild bad weather, especially when temps drop, in light weight small air vehicles is incredibly dangerous and uncomfortable thing to do."

You're referring to technology that will be considered primitive compared to what's coming. This will be light years from the small aircraft you're referring to and I've been flying in, in the last 50 years.

In reply to by Stackers