As automakers aggressively compete with one another in an effort to push the boundaries of vehicle design and performance, one company has decided to take on the monumental task of transforming the concept of personal travel itself.
Last December, self-described serial entrepreneur Matt Chasen announced the launch of LIFT Aircraft, a company that recently released an electric, vertical-takeoff machine that doesn't require a pilot's license to operate. Named Hexa, the 432-pound aircraft runs on 18 independent motors and propellers needed for a "perfectly stable, controlled flight," according to the company's website.
"Personal aviation is available today but it's only accessible to the lucky few with the money, time and skill to get the extensive training needed to fly traditional aircraft," Chasen said in a press release. "At LIFT, we're making flying so simple, safe and inexpensive that anyone can do it with very little skill or special training. We're truly consumerizing flying for the first time in history."
To that end, Hexa has what Chasen's company calls a "triply redundant autopilot computer" with a single, 3-axis joystick that any ordinary person can use. The machine comes with a seven-inch touchscreen that allows the pilot to fly without even using the joystick. Chasen has claimed that Hexa's autopilot system, combined with its use of drone technology, in fact, makes flying safer than general aviation aircraft.
"Autonomy is actually much easier in the air than for cars on the ground - there are far fewer obstacles, no roads, no traffic lights, and you have 3 dimensions to move around," he explained. "For example, the aircraft is continuously calculating the energy required to return to home-based altitude, wind speed and direction. Regardless of what the pilot does, the aircraft will automatically return and land when the battery approaches this level plus a reserve, and it can also automatically land in designated safe landing areas, if necessary."
Chasen previously founded uShip, an Austin-based online marketplace for shipping services. His latest venture, LIFT Aircraft, is similar to that of other major companies, namely Boeing and Airbus, which are currently attempting to revolutionize air travel. In an interview with Bloomberg last year, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said he expects to have electric passenger drones on the market within the next decade.
"I think it will happen faster than any of us understand," he said. "Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable."