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Is this 18-rotor electric ‘super drone’ the future of taxis?

Why it matters to you

It has a striking design but to be a success, people have to want to climb inside. Would you?

Call it a superdrone. Call it a helicopter on steroids. Call it what you darn well like, but the extraordinary Volocopter is another step closer to becoming a reality for rich folks interested in a quirky mode of transport. Or possibly a flying taxi service in urban settings.

Built by German firm E-Volo, we first heard about this remarkable vertical-takeoff-and-landing contraption six years ago, and last year it finally took to the skies for its very first manned flight.

This week a new version of the Volocopter, the 2X, showed up at AERO, a huge aviation trade fair in Friedrichshafen, Germany, The Verge reported on Wednesday.

If you hadn’t already noticed, the most striking part of the Volocopter’s design is its large number of rotors — 18 in all — that at first sight look like a bunch of drones welded together. Powered by nine lithium-ion batteries, Volocopter is a zero-emissions vehicle with a maximum speed of 62 mph. Cruising at a speed of 43 mph gives it a range of 17 miles, more than enough for short hops or a city-based shuttle service.

The Volocopter looks pretty sleek inside and out. It can carry up to two passengers and fly autonomously with a few pre-flight taps on the copter’s control panel. A joystick also allows for manual control, as successfully demonstrated last year by E-Volo boss Alexander Zosel.

On its website, E-Volo assures amateur pilots they can “depend upon a system that forgives you for your mistakes,” which is certainly good to know in case your hands suddenly get a bit sweaty at the controls. “You can even let go of the joystick when you wish to gaze at something in wonderment — the Volocopter retains your altitude and position.” That’s even better to know.

However, for “incorrigible pessimists” who have little faith in the machine’s reliability, E-Volo has incorporated “a full aircraft parachute,” which, in an emergency, will enable you to “descend to the ground, very gently, still securely seated in the aircraft.” You read that right — a full aircraft parachute.

Upcoming plans for the Volocopter include more testing of the latest design, and, next year, the trial launch of a flying taxi service.

It’s certainly an exciting time for anyone following the development of compact, electric-powered flying “cars” or similar machines. Other companies competing with E-Volo to bring their respective designs to market include the likes of Uber, Airbus, and Chinese firm Ehang. Clearly, the design of such contraptions have come a very long way in recent years.