Industries in Depth

This air taxi uses 5G to ‘see’ around corners

Florian Reuter, CEO of German startup Volocopter, speaks to the media in Singapore, October 22, 2019.

Volocopter was named as one of the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Technology Pioneers. Image: REUTERS/Feline Lim

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Drones

As an answer to urban congestion, vertical take-off electric drones could soon provide a sustainable way to move people and cargo around our cities. Now the most advanced multicopter is adding 5G capabilities to allow it to fly further and more safely.

German start-up Volocopter, which made the world's first manned, fully electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft in 2011, has just announced plans for a new version. The VoloCity is designed as an urban flying taxi and will carry two people over a range of 35km at 110kph between specially built Voloports.

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The drone-like air taxi resembles a small helicopter with 18 battery-powered rotors. Users will be able to summon one to their nearest hub using a smartphone app. Brian Krzanich, CEO of software firm CDK Global, flew in one last year and described the experience as: “the best flight I have ever had.”

Volocopter was named as one of the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Technology Pioneers. CEO Florian Reuter told a Forum workshop that 5G capability would allow Volocopter to 'see' round corners, avoid obstacles and download flight data to enhance performance and safety.

A VoloCity vehicle
The VoloCity is designed a flying taxi Image: Volocopter

Certified to fly

Volocopter received its airworthiness certificate in Germany in 2016 and this year the Finnish authorities certified it too. A demonstration flight at Helsinki airport proved it could safely operate under conventional air traffic control.

Its air taxi capabilities have been demonstrated with trials in Dubai and Singapore, cities where flying taxis could make a contribution to easing congestion. The first Voloport was unveiled in Singapore recently.

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Volocopter co-founder Alexander Zosel told Reuters the company plans to have a piloted version of VoloCity in commercial service within two to three years, with a fully autonomous air taxi entering service within five to 10 years.

An imagined scene of a cycling accident, with someone called a VoloCity for help
The multicopter has been used in an exercise simulating emergency response to an accident on the ground Image: Volocopter

The Volocopter recently showed its potential for use by the emergency services, taking part in a medical rescue mission, ferrying an emergency doctor to treat a casualty in an exercise with Germany’s ADAC air rescue service.

The company recently unveiled a new autonomous freight version, the VoloDrone, capable of lifting a 200kg payload 40km. Volocopter says using 5G will allow the VoloDrone to operate beyond urban areas on missions like crop spraying, surveying and delivering bulky items.

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Industries in DepthFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging Technologies
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