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Flying Taxis May Be Years Away, but the Groundwork Is Accelerating

SAN FRANCISCO — Flying cars are just starting to inch their way out of science fiction. But that is not stopping some companies from planning for flying taxi services.


A growing collection of tech companies, aircraft manufacturers, automakers and investors are betting that fleets of battery-powered aircraft will give rise to air taxi services, perhaps as soon as the next decade. Some of those taxis, the companies hope, may even use artificial intelligence to fly themselves.


The dealmaking, technology exploration and perhaps wishful thinking around this new sort of flying transportation — please, the companies ask, don’t call them flying cars — are reminiscent of the work done on self-driving cars just a few years ago.


No one can say for certain if these new vehicles will turn out to be a real business. But many companies are already worried about being left behind.


The European aerospace company Airbus said Tuesday that it was making an investment in Blade, an aviation startup in New York, and forming a partnership to expand Blade’s helicopter hailing service in more cities around the world. Last week, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, said he expected the ride-hailing company to start flying passengers on a service called Uber Air in five to 10 years.

歐洲航空公司空客(Airbus)周二表示將投資紐約的一家航空初創公司Blade,并與其建立合作伙伴關系,在全球更多城市擴大Blade的直升機呼叫服務。優步(Uber)的首席執行官達拉·霍斯勞沙希(Dara Khosrowshahi)表示,他預計這家招車公司會在5到10年內推出一個名為“空中優步”(Uber Air)的飛行載客服務。

In November, Boeing acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, a company specializing in flight systems for pilotless aircraft, for an undisclosed sum. Before the acquisition, Aurora had been working with Uber to develop a flying taxi. And Joby Aviation, a startup in Santa Cruz, California, building its own air taxi, said this month that it had raised $100 million in venture funding from a consortium of investors including the venture capital arms of Intel, Toyota Motor and JetBlue Airways.<-->紐約時報中英文網 http://www.uydujn.live<-->

11月,波音收購了專研無人駕駛飛機飛行系統的公司極光飛行科學(Aurora Flight Sciences),未公開收購金額。在此次收購之前,Aurora公司正與優步合作,研發飛行出租車。而一家正在研發自己的空中出租車的初創公司——位于加利佛尼亞圣克魯斯的喬比航空(Joby Aviation)本月表示,一個包括英特爾(Intel)、豐田汽車(Toyota Motor)和捷藍航空(JetBlue Airways)風險投資部門在內的投資者財團已向其注入一億美元風險投資。

“This is the natural progression of the vehicles we make,” said Ben Bridge, head of global business for Airbus Helicopters. “We want a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation that is happening.”

“我們的載具制造走到這一步是很自然的,”空客直升機(Airbus Helicopters)全球業務負責人本·布里奇(Ben Bridge)說。“我們想擁有一席之地,也想加入這個正在進行的對話。”

Flying cars even played a bit role in the recently settled legal fight over trade secrets between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car service spun out of Google.


In court testimony this month, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive, said he had heard that Larry Page — the chief executive of Waymo’s parent company, Alphabet, who has a side project building new types of aircraft — was upset because Uber was “doing their thing” with flying cars.

在本月的法庭證詞中,優步前首席執行官特拉維斯·卡蘭尼克(Travis Kalanick)表示,他聽說拉里·佩奇(Larry Page)——Waymo母公司Alphabet首席執行官,他另有一個制造新型飛機的副業項目——之所以不滿,是因為優步在飛行汽車領域“做了他們擅長的事”。

Whatever you imagine a flying car to be — stop. What these companies envision is something like a helicopter but much quieter and more affordable. Think of a hobbyist’s drone, but big enough to fit people. It would, in theory, be welcome in urban environments and affordable to more than well-heeled businesspeople. At least, that’s the dream.<紐約時報中英文網 http://www.uydujn.live/>


Before there can be too much enthusiasm for these flying taxi services, it’s worth noting that self-driving cars have yet to turn into a notable business for anyone, despite about a decade of research at tech giants like Google and billions in investment from Silicon Valley and the auto industry.


Regulators are just starting to agree on rules for large-scale tests of self-driving cars on public roads. How would they deal with flying taxis? The details of the future service are far — very far — from being ironed out.


Still, there are some reasons for the new enthusiasm. Battery improvements and the wide use of drones have spawned technological breakthroughs. The taxis would take off and land vertically like a helicopter, so they’d take up less room. Because they would be battery-powered, they would be more environmentally friendly.


For now, Airbus executives hope to gain from Blade’s experience with an app that allows customers to reserve a seat on a helicopter. Airbus is expected to invest up to $15 million in Blade, which would represent about a 10 percent stake in the company, according to a person who is familiar with the transaction but not permitted to discuss the investment details publicly.


Both companies see helicopters as an intermediate step until a new type of aircraft and taxi service hits the market. Rob Wiesenthal, Blade’s chief executive, said a quieter and less expensive alternative to helicopters “opens up a whole new world.”

兩家公司都將直升機視為新型飛機和出租車投放市場之前的一個過渡。Blade首席執行官羅布·維森塔爾(Rob Wiesenthal)表示,更安靜、更便宜的直升機替代品“打開了一個全新的世界”。

Airbus said it was preparing for a test flight by year-end for its CityAirbus aircraft, which carries up to four passengers and can reach a cruising speed of about 75 mph. It plans to deploy the CityAirbus in 2023.




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