The omnipresence of technology has increasingly attracted unlikely companies to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and this year is no exception. At CES 2018, Texas-based Bell became the first major helicopter manufacturer to exhibit at the trade show. It’s showing off its vision of the on-demand flying taxi the aerospace industry is slowly but surely moving toward.
Referred to as the Bell flying taxi, it takes the form of a streamlined fuselage with a large glass surface and a pair of sliding doors on either side. Outside, it looks a little bit like a helicopter from a science fiction movie. It’s what’s inside that counts, however. The air taxi offers space for four passengers in a futuristic cabin that looks more like what you’d find in a luxury car like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class than a helicopter. The front part of the cabin houses a panel with several touchscreens that display information about the helicopter and its surroundings, as well as entertainment for the passengers.
Reflecting a recent trend, the concept is a cabin only. It’s not designed to fly, so Bell hasn’t provided us with technical details save for the fact that it’s entirely electric. The company told Digital Trends it will release initial specifications as the design study moves closer to production. The presence of a cyclic (the joystick-like device used to control the helicopter) between the front seats indicates it’s not entirely autonomous, however.
“The future of urban air taxi is closer than many people realize. We believe in the positive impact our design will have on addressing transportation concerns in cities worldwide,” Mitch Snyder, Bell’s president and CEO, said during CES. He did not provide a more specific time frame.
Bell and ridesharing giant Uber are working on making flying taxis a reality sooner rather than later. Uber announced its interest in the segment two years ago.
“We have a collaboration with Uber to work together to accelerate large-scale development of vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (VTOL). Bell’s initial focus is on technology development — already underway — and working together to develop the infrastructure,” a spokesperson told Digital Trends. We’re unlikely to see something like the concept displayed in Las Vegas hovering above America’s highways before the turn of the decade.
Airbus, Bell’s aptly named main competitor in the helicopter-building business, is also working on its own VTOL vehicle. It’s a lot less secretive about its program. Essentially a mammoth drone, the CityAirbus prototype relies on electric motors fed by a 140-kWh battery pack.
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