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Bosch to Sell Low-Cost Sensors for Flying Cars

Bosch expects the first flying taxi service to take off in a major city by 2023

2 min read
Conceptual illustration of an air taxi on a landing pad.
Illustration: Shutterstock

Bosch today said it plans to sell a universal control unit for flying cars that combines dozens of sensors that have been proven in cars on the ground. 

“The first flying taxis are set to take off in major cities starting in 2023, at the latest,” Harald Kröger, president of the Bosch Automotive Electronics division, said in a statement. “Bosch plans to play a leading role in shaping this future market.” 

Among the many sensors in the universal, plug-and-play unit are MEMS-based acceleration sensors. These include yaw-rate sensors to measure the angle of attack—that is, the plane’s angle with respect to the oncoming air. This was the quality that was mismeasured by the sensors and misinterpreted by the control unit of the Boeing 737 Max, contributing to the two crashes of that airliner.

Bosch says its vast experience in mass-producing sensors for cars will enable it to offer those sensors at a much lower price than is usual for the aviation industry. Bosch says that the typical flying taxi will probably cost around US $550,000, once the vehicles go into mass production.

Right now, though, Bosch is mostly just selling pickaxes to miners. Air taxis are still in the laboratory; the first realistic test flights will begin only next year. Uber will test an air taxi in Dallas in 2020; other places that will allow such tests include Dubai, Los Angeles, and Singapore. The first commercial flights are being talked up for 2023. Bosch cites Roland Berger, a worldwide consultancy based in Germany, as projecting 3,000 air taxis will be in operation by 2025, 12,000 by 2030, and nearly 100,000 by 2050.

The early flights will have human pilots. Later, the pilot will operate the air taxi remotely. Finally, the planes will fly themselves. That’s perhaps not quite so blue-sky an idea as it seems: autonomous vehicles may find it easier to fly than to drive. For one thing, there are fewer obstacles up there; for another, there is a flight-control network already in place.

Even so, it all sounds a bit hopeful, given that the flying-car market doesn’t exist yet, even in embryo form. But even the hope, verging on hype, shows just how far this long-ridiculed technology has come. This year, it finally made it onto the first stage—the “innovation trigger”—of the Gartner Hype Cycle, the famous s-shaped curve depicting the rise, fall, and rise again of new technologies.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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