A German startup company developing an “on-demand air mobility service” – yep, that’s air taxis – is eyeing setting up a facility in Orlando, Florida, that could make zipping about in flying vehicles a reality by 2025.
Not flying cars, per se, but small five-seater vertical takeoff vehicles – less DeLorean, more Bruce Willis’s taxi in The Fifth Element.
Munich-based Lilium unveiled its electric vehicle, the Lilium Jet, last year and successfully completed the first phase of flight testing just six months later. With vertical takeoff and landing, something that has long challenged the aerospace industry, the need for a runway is dispensed, which means in a city all you'd need is space the size of a helipad, or, as they call it, "Lili pad".
Now, you may be thinking, great, they've invented the helicopter, but Lilium's aim is to create an environmentally-friendly regional transport network across the country using all-electric vehicles. Despite having 36 electric motors, the jet is up to seven times quieter than a helicopter, about as loud as a passing truck, and will be completely inaudible when flying above 400 meters (1,300 feet), according to the company.
The emissions-free aircraft will be able to fly up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) in an hour on a single charge, rivaling high-speed trains, and taking about a quarter of the time a car journey takes (take that, Tesla). Though test flights have currently been uncrewed, Lilium is aiming for these vehicles to be a reality by 2025. Which is where Orlando comes in.
Lilium already has two manufacturing facilities in Munich and a partnership in place with both Cologne/Bonn and Düsseldorf airports to explore the reality of an electric vehicle transport hub. Now, the company is looking to other countries to explore development. According to the Orlando Business Journal, Lilium is seeking tax incentives to build a 5,200-square-meter (56,000-square-foot) transport hub in the city that could bring over 100 jobs to the region.
An autonomous vehicle industry – including flying vehicles, and yes, flying cars – is fast emerging in the US and Orlando is at the heart of it. Florida took early action to pass legislation to encourage vehicle trials. Orlando is one of 10 places in the US designated as an autonomous vehicle testing ground. It is the second state to allow self-driving trials, and later passed a law allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the roads beyond testing. Its legislation even mandates Florida governments consider autonomous vehicles in any future road and city planning.
The region is already host to Luminar technologies, which develops sensors for autonomous vehicles, and Beep, Inc., which launched its autonomous electric shuttle service at Lake Nona last September, but now companies are moving in from out of state and further afield. The city is currently working on a "master plan" to become a "smart city," and vertical takeoff vehicles are a point of emphasis for the tech-focused program.
As Orlando's mayor, Buddy Dyer, puts it: "In Orlando, our goal is to become America's premier future-ready city."
Thirty-five years ago Back to the Future may have predicted we'd all have flying cars by 2015, but to have environmentally friendly, emissions-free flying vehicles instead, we don't think anyone will mind being a decade late.