Autonomous Passenger Drones: Transport of the Future

By popularising the Hyperloop concept and forming The Boring Company, Elon Musk is evidently revolutionising unconventional methods of transportation. I believe that, whilst these afford several advantages over current means of travel, a major hindrance to both ventures is the time and cost of developing infrastructure. Autonomous Passenger Drones (APDs) offer an alternative solution to the traffic dilemma by utilising the surplus of three-dimensional space above buildings as a multilevel road complex.

Through the implementation of level 5 autonomy, there will be no need for passengers to take manual control of the drone as they will be guided along a pre-established atmospheric highway (airway) only visible to the AI. This will ensure that safety precautions are maximised so that the drones avoid colliding between one-another and maintain a stable altitude. The advantages of producing an operable ADP would, in itself be a milestone as the majority of people are largely hesitant about the safety, plausibility and commercialisation of a passenger VTOL. VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing) offer an advantage as they do not require the additional costs of constructing a runway and simply require the airspace above to be clear.

Los Angeles is renowned for its issues with traffic, a result of the vehicle ownership rates exceeding 6.5 million and the number of vehicles per square mile averaging 2,200. The combination of The Boring Company’s tunnels being implemented and APD VOTLs would drastically reduce road congestion by order of magnitude. With the advent of electric cars increasing, APDs should follow suit and run solely off electric charge to aid in the reduction of global carbon emissions. Through the exponential rate of improvements in battery technology, APDs will be able to travel greater distances and power more advanced AI systems – eventually permitting a broader range of feasible concept designs and varied scalability.

Several startup companies have either already publicly announced that they are at the stage of developing the ‘flying car’ concept’ or presented an initial iteration of the framework. Noticeably, a majority have taken a ‘safe’ approach to the design, selecting functionality over form (rather than opting to combine the two) which has negative implications on the general public who will view the future of APDs as undesirable. One particular engineering problem to be tackled is to implement a mechanism which renders the drone into a fully functional car. For this, I have designed 3 plausible yet different systems to achieve this whilst reducing common issues associated transformative structures including, size, speed and stability.

The ultimate aim for APDs is not only to prove ‘flying cars’ to exist beyond the world of science fiction but also to commercialise them in a manner which demonstrates their capabilities for everyday usage. Should you or your team share an interest in this concept and would like to render this dream a reality please reach out to me at samirdevechi@gmail.com for schematics, related papers or simply to discuss how to take this forward.

(Photo credits: skydrive / autoevolution.com)

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