A British entrepreneur developing the UK’s first autonomous passenger drone says he’ll begin test flights with people on board as early as this year.
Martin Warner’s start-up, Autonomous Flight, has been building the Y6S – a battery-powered pilotless flying vehicle – to give our busiest cities a major transport upgrade.
“One day, absolutely, there’s going to be an air shuttle system and people using autonomous passenger drones or indeed piloted drones as another form of getting to work,” he told me.
The Y6S is designed to cover a distance of Heathrow Airport to Charing Cross train station in 12 minutes, a journey that could take around an hour by car.
I asked how he would manage commuters’ safety concerns about flying in a vehicle without a pilot.
“There are multiple flight redundancies which is multiple uses of technology to ensure that if there is a single point of failure the aircraft will either land or fly you to where you need to be,” he said.
What about the risk of cyberattacks?
He continued: “These are serialised, they’re tracked, we’re not flying over oceans, they’re flying short distances.
“You have to assume that you are one step ahead in terms of encryption and constantly reviewing that.”
Early test flights, without passengers, have already been taking place around the Kent/Surrey border, according to Mr Warner, who believes these electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or VTOLs, will be the next goldrush in transportation and not as costly as you might think.
“The ability to put what we call the Y6S – a two-seater aircraft – in the air for someone to purchase is probably going to be more like a medium price of around $25,000 or £20,000,” he said.
There are currently several companies around the world working on pilotless passenger drones but Autonomous Flight is the only firm from the UK.
Chinese UAV-maker Ehang became the first to test-fly a passenger drone taxi with its single-seater Ehang 184 in Dubai last year.
While Uber’s deal with NASA to work on its flying taxi project should see testing begin in 2020.
As long as regulatory requirements can be met, Martin says we’ll see passenger drones above UK cities within as little as five years.