A UK start-up is aiming to “transform city transportation from the air” with a drone that is expected to perform test flights with passengers as early as next year.
Called Y6S, Autonomous Flight‘s aircraft seats two people, has a maximum speed of 70mph and will fly at an altitude of 1,500 feet.
The concept vehicle is expected to be unveiled in March 2018 with manned test flights planned for September, making Autonomous Flight the first company in the UK to join the burgeoning global market of passenger drones, better known as electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or VTOLs.
Much like drones, VTOLs can hover, take off and land vertically.
According to the company’s founder Martin Warner, the Y6S could take passengers from London Heathrow to Charing Cross in just 12 minutes.
Warner said: “The Y6S is going through a series of tests. By end of March we will have a full, living concept – 70% of the concept will be the prototype.
“We will be doing test flights using sandbags to adjust for human weight in August. At the end of the third quarter, we will most likely be doing our first passenger test flight.”
The vehicle, which is aimed at private users, will be powered by a lithium-ion battery and can travel within an 80-mile range.
The Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the UK, has rules in place for flying drones but that does not extend to VTOLs.
Warner said: “We have just hired a UK lobbyist to participate in the conversations about regulations. As far as I understand, there has been some conversations but it is very early.
“There is an industrial policy on unmanned drones, particularly on the consumer side, but there is nothing yet concrete about the idea that we could have autonomous routes providing track ways for passenger vehicles other than helicopters.”
Warner describes the VTOL sector as the “new gold rush in transportation and aviation”.
Chinese drone maker Ehang has been working on a single-seater vehicle called the EHang 184, while cab-sharing firm Uber recently unveiled plans to launch “flying taxis” by 2020. Meanwhile, German aviation start-up Lilium is also working on a VTOL prototype that it claims will be five times faster than travelling in a car.
As well as Y6S, the company is also working on two other VTOL prototypes – Y6S Plus, which will seat four people and be aimed at private users looking to buy or rent the aircraft, and the AS1, an eight-seater designed to provide transportation for the masses.
Warner says that all three vehicles will have self-piloting capabilities but will initially be flown by human pilots while the industry lobbies for regulation changes.
He added: “We are too early to give a date on autonomous flying in any stretch – which is the reason we are allowing these vehicles to be flown by pilots.”
But he is optimistic that regulations for an air transit system with self-piloted vehicles will be in place within 10 years.
Warner said: “We are aiming to transform city transportation from the air. The focus is on solving transportation and improving people’s lives.
“There are several hundred million dollars to be made in this market. In 10 years, VTOLs will be mainstream for sure, but once the order books are open for private use, we will certainly see an air shuttle-based system coming to fruition at that point.”