An urban port for delivery drones – and for flying taxis in the future – opened in the UK on Monday, sending a box of sparkling wine soaring into the air on a brief test flight.
The Air-One, a “vertical harbor” for drones and future electric vehicles that take off and land vertically, has been claimed as the first of its kind by its promoters, who herald a new era of futuristic, low-carbon air transport.
The facility, situated in a former automobile factory in Coventry, central England, will serve for a month as a showcase for this burgeoning industry.
The maiden flight symbolically lifted a box with six bottles of sparkling wine, weighing around 12 kg, from the launch pad.
The commercial drone used – a Malloy Aeronautics T150 on loan from the British army – is the largest to fly in such an urban environment, according to Ricky Sandhu, founder and chief executive of Urban-Air Port, the British company behind the project.
“You are in the world’s first fully operational vertical port,” Sandhu told guests at the venue. “It’s a nascent sector, certainly, but now it’s really starting to pick up speed,” he added.
Urban-Air Port develops ground infrastructure for autonomous delivery drones and air taxis, which is expected to be developed by the end of this decade, and has spent the last year preparing its presentation in Coventry.
The temporary installation of the Air-One, close to the city’s train station, aims to show how an integrated center for these devices can work in a saturated urban environment.
The company plans to hold similar demonstrations elsewhere in the UK and around the world in the coming months, and its goal is to have more than 200 such venues around the world.
The “vertical ports” are designed to be easily assembled and disassembled and use hydrogen fuel cells to “generate zero emissions” of CO2.
The company claims to have orders estimated at 65 million pounds ($83 million), with projects planned in the US, Australia, France, Germany, Scandinavia and Southeast Asia.
One of the partners in the project is Supernal, an American subsidiary of the South Korean car company Hyundai, which is developing a concept of an autonomous flying electric vehicle to transport passengers.
“We are focused on building the ecosystem that allows this new technology to thrive,” Supernal commercial director Michael Whitaker told AFP. “Without vertical ports, without places to land, there will be no business.”
Supernal wants its eight-rotor all-electric concept vehicle, which is on display at Air-One, to be certified for 2024 before it begins series production.
“We’re going to see some operations this decade, but I think the 2030s will really be the decade of advanced air mobility, and from there, it’s going to start spreading all over the place,” says Whitaker.