Martine Rothblatt has invented a flying machine that could help transform the ride-sharing industry. Working with Tier 1 Engineering, the team has produced the world’s first battery-powered helicopter, a breakthrough that could help the likes of Uber produce clean, energy efficient vehicles for short flights.
“This was a proof of concept,” Rothblatt said in an interview published Monday. “Everyone told me this was impossible.”
Innovations like these are exactly what Uber will need for its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) ride-sharing service. Part of the company’s 96-page plan involves using electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions during operation. When taking off around congested urban areas, cutting fuel consumption will be critical.
Rothblatt’s helicopter itself is not suitable for Uber’s purposes. The company is avoiding traditional helicopters as they are harder to control when taking off in windy conditions surrounded by buildings. However, Rothblatt’s team has overcome a major hurdle with battery powered flying machines. Before now, the batteries were thought to be too heavy for operations.
From here, the team intends to build a design better suited to its power usage. The current helicopter can fly for around 20 minutes. The team is also interested in licensing the tech to others.
Battery power will become a key area of interest in the coming years. Smartphones have pushed for longer running times through more efficient processors, but slimmer bodies have pushed batteries to smaller sizes. Advancements in charging speed have helped, but consumer demands are increasing and there may be a greater push towards increasing battery life itself.
Tesla plans to fully open its gigafactory in 2018, and when it launches it’ll be the world’s largest battery factory. CEO Elon Musk sees this as crucial to helping fight climate change, as renewable energy sources will be able to store the generated power for when conditions shut off generation, like when it’s night time, for solar power. This drive for better batteries may help increase research funding, and if Rothblatt’s creation is anything to go by, there are still plenty of areas battery tech can revolutionize daily life.