Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs
Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Here is a great question to ask any futurist or foresighter: What have you changed your mind about in recent years? In 2014, I didn’t think that drones for air deliveries and commuting were going to arrive anywhere in the world within ten years, or by 2025. The challenges seemed too daunting, and the investments and competition in the space just too small to make a difference. Since then, I’ve come to realize I was wrong. If I’d been paying closer attention to the enabling technology trends, I would have changed my mind. The US, China, Dubai, and Israel are all experimenting with these today, and all of these and many other places are likely to allow commercial operations by 2025. Dubai is moving first, with their future-oriented leadership, with a maiden air taxi test flight with Volocopter in Sept 2017 and a planned first commercial service launch with eHang this Summer.
So let me ask you: what big future events have you changed your mind about in recent years? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As we’ll now see, a fantastic and incredibly profitable new global mobility solution is now on our ten year horizon with passengerdrones (aka “multi-rotor electric AVs”) and their less-recognized cousins, droneplanes(aka “fixed- and variable wing EVTOL AVs” — that’s a mouthful). Purists remind us that “drones” originally referred to only the unmanned variety, but everyone is now calling these human-carrying machines dronesas well, and I recommend you do too. It’s a perfectly good one-syllable word.
These new technologies are going to solve our centuries-old problem of urban gridlock, by safely, quietly, and sustainably moving the transportation of growing quantities of goods and people into the third dimension, the air. Unlike digging under ground, which will go far slower, these systems will take us nearly point-to-point, they are far easier to scale, and their load can increase with demand, with no additional construction costs.
In coming decades, these clever new machines will be built into very fast and efficient air deliveryandair taxinetworks, on-demand services that can achieve incredibly high densities in leading cities. Using them will be expensive in the 2020’s, and it is my hope that we’ll see air deliveries for urgent goods first, but the most exciting application, multipassenger commuter drones, should start to get mass-affordable for daily use in the 2030s. So just like we see with pollution, spam, and other technology-created or enabled problems, we can predict urban gridlock will subside, at an accelerating rate, as these networks start to seriously scale in the 2030s.
Consider that removing urban gridlock is a far more exciting and valuable objective than, for example, going faster between major urban areas. Even if we had a Hyperloop train between LA and San Francisco today, we’d still be stuck with the awful traffic in each of those destinations once we got there. It’s the 30 billion hours that Americans spend commuting each year, the full week of each of our lives that we waste in traffic annually, that are the top transportation problems for urbanites everywhere. Self-driving cars are part of the solution, but they are going to be stuck on our gridlocked road systems, just like every other car. With the arrival of safe, cheap, and quiet air taxi networks, we can finally see the full solution ahead.
What’s more, because drone networks are more like point-to-point-capabletrains than cars, which sit unused 95% of the time, we’ll need a lot less of these vehicles than most of us might initially think, to serve all our leading cities in coming decades, as we’ll discuss.
All the Key Air Delivery and Air Taxi Problems are Being Solved Today — This Future is Almost Upon Us
Today’s drones and droneplanes are still toonoisy, unsafe, non-autonomous, expensive, and range-, speed- and power-limited. We also can’t imagine how they’ll be beautiful, if many are flying around in the air. But all six of these critical adoption problems are being rapidly solved today.
Let’s briefly discuss each of these issues now, and see how.
1.Noise. To be allowed in the air in large numbers, package delivery and commuter drones will have to be far less noisy than our current quadrotor drones. Fortunately, the more rotors one adds, and once each rotor can adjust to operate at a slightly different RPM than the others, the quieter drones become. The Daimler-backed Volocopter pictured above, with a particularly safe 18-rotor design that also incorporates a whole-drone parachute, presently claims to be 7X quieter than a helicopter.
These drones become even quieter when you enclose the rotors inside a carbon-fiber tube, creating a ducted fan, which we already find in designs like the Lilium and Urban Aeronautics drones today. A multifan design like Lilium’s (picture below) seems like it has the potential to be the quietest. The rotor-enclosing tubes can be noise insulated, and the edges can be dynamically adjusted by micromotors, to make the the air rushing through them even quieter yet.
NASA has been at the forefront of making quieter drones for several years. We just have to mandatelow-decibel designs in our cities, as we will surely do, even before they are in the air in any significant numbers. Stealth startup Joby Aviation, one of the leaders in the passenger drone race today, whose design we haven’t seen publicly yet, plans to make their drones 100X quieter than a helicopter on takeoff and landing, and silentwhen flying over private residences. That would surely be quiet enough for mass adoption.
Fortunately, sound levels drop 6 dB with every doubling of distance, so we can require our air delivery and taxi drones to fly high enough not to be heard. Unless they are low-noise engineered, most of today’s drones might have to rise above 3,000 feet before finding a virtual lane in the sky. In some urban areas, drones may allowed to fly low over highways, adding to highway noise. But I hope that doesn’t happen. I think we citizens should fight to reduce our current levels of noise pollution. We need to measure andreduce urban noise, not keep adding to it.
Eventually, I expect our better droneplanes will have reconfigurable wings, allowing them to temporarily double in surface area, like a bird stretching out its feathers, for slow gliding landings. Some will eventually even be like ornithopters, able to do flapping takeoffsin their first few hundred feet before turning on their rotors, much like a bird, making them near silent even on takeoff in noise-sensitive areas. The first of these two examples of bio-inspireddesign may be technically feasible soon, and the second perhaps a generation from today.
2. Safety. People have a very negative psychological reaction to things falling out of the sky. Some of our worst nightmares are of large birds, snakes, spiders, or other things falling down from above us. We humans obsess out of all proportion over plane accidents versus ground accidents, perhaps due to some evolutionary bias, or perhaps because plane accidents feel particularly outside of our control and able to strike anywhere, not just on our streets. Whatever the cause of this sensitivity, we will need a set of smart technologies and strategies able to quell this reaction as drones increasingly proliferate.
Fortunately, advanced safety solutions exist today, or are on the near-term horizon. Some of these are expensive, but in the best of all worlds, I hope we’ll require them all before we see drones in large numbers flying overhead.
First, notice that the more rotors one adds, the saferthey become. Multi-rotor design allows drones to have double, triple, or more system redundancy, with each rotor group running on separate circuits. Each rotor group is like an independent swarm of birds holding you up, and each rotor group can auto-land the drone if the others fail. This redundancy is another great example of bio-inspired design. Our Apollo astronauts went to the moon with triple redundancy, and that seems a very smart safety strategy for our drones.
Another strategy to get people comfortable with drones is to show that they are uniquely helpful in improving public safety. Israel’s Urban Aeronautics is working on a droneambulance system, a bold and clever early use case, wherever there is political will for better emergency services. These would be much more useful and inexpensive than today’s helicopters. Human-carrying rescue, police and military drones are also of great value. But as David Brin keenly observes in the Transparent Society, democratic societies desire at least 20X more of these scary technologies (drones, cameras, AIs, guns, etc.) in public hands than in governmental hands. That is why air taxis and privately-owned personal drones are also such critical developments. We don’t want to live, or feel like we live, in an Orwellian state.
Parachutes are another excellent way to increase safety and remove passenger and ground anxiety. Until they have something like robotically reconfigurable carbon fiber wings and can glide to the ground like birds (2050s?), I think both package and commuter drones should also be required to have drone parachutes that unfold rapidly above the drone (via electromagnets, compressed CO2, or airbag-class explosives) in case of mechanical failure. Skycat is one of several companies that offer such rapid-deploying parachutes for small drones today.
Our coming drones also should have an airbag ecosystem that rapidly deploys inside and below the drone, triggered by AI, accelerometers and sonar, a system that is also deployable manually in case of AI failure. The REAPS system of external airbags is an excellent example of safety tech that all our airborne drones need. It was trialed by the very innovative Israeli defense company Rafael, makers of the Iron Dome air defense system, on helicopters for the US Navy in 2005 (picture below). These airbags offer excellent protection for occupants in low-velocity crashes, but unfortunately, there’s never been the political will to make them necessary on any rotorcraft anywhere yet, military or otherwise. Let’s hope that changes soon.
Foresight University (4U) is a professional learning and development company, run by academically-trained foresight practitioners, entrepreneurs, technologists, and creatives. We offer high-quality training in personal, organizational, global, societal and universal (“full spectrum”) foresight and leadership, we help leaders and entrepreneurs maximize their positive career impact, and we support the growing professional foresight community.
Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy
V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism
Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment
Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity
Chapter 8: Your Digital Self
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)
I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self
Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity
II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains
1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education 2.Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice 3. Political Agents : Activism & Represent. 4. Economic Agents: Retail, Finance, Entrep 5.Builder Agents : Work, Innov. & Science 6.Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability 7.Health Agents : Health, Wellness, Death 8.Security Agents : Def., Crime, Corrections
III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment
Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?
Chapter 9. Trends and Progress – Leading Positive Change
Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community
Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures