Car makers heading to the skies? It certainly looks like it. As fanciful as it might seem, and as Jetson-esque as it might sound, Mercedes-Benz has effectively endorsed the concept of flying cars - or flying conveyances, more to the point.
You might think German manufacturers are a little staid and boring, but with its recent investment in flying taxi/drone company Volocopter, Mercedes-Benz has materially admitted that taking to the skies is a potential future technology - and it has put its money where its mouth is.
It’s one thing to talk about pie-in-the-sky concepts, but quite another to stump up actual money for them, thus endorsing their potential and signalling future intent. According to Mercedes-Benz research and development chief, Ola Kallenius, investing in Volocopter is the most sensible thing in the world.
Kallenius started by reminding Australian media about the origins of the three-pointed star. “The original meaning was a point for sea, land and air,” he said. “We have focused a lot on land for the last 100 years.”
Volocopter (above) is a small German company that is aiming to lead the market in flying taxis, that potentially offer up a more cost-effective alternative to traditional helicopters. Volocopter would also aim to remove the pilot from the equation, instead focusing on software and electronics.
Kallenius explained that the concept of vertical take off and landing, and the industry that is building up around the idea is very much a potential way of moving people around in a flying taxi service. The key, as it is with the types of drones CarAdvice uses for video work, is battery life and durability though.
“Now that we can have better-performing batteries, we can reach flight time of up to 30 minutes,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like much, but for certain situations, like going from an airport to the centre of the city, you can start to find cases where a 30 minute flight could be a significant improvement for many customers.”
According to Kallenius, Dubai has already committed to tripling the Volocopter model, and the trial will be running later in 2017.
While he admits it will be some time before flying drone taxis replace either the millions of cars around the world, or the drivers in them, Kallenius reckons it’s potentially a big market.
“It is interesting, and potentially a quite big market in the future,” he said.