Watch out: Here come Uber’s flying taxis

Photo credit: This photo is in the public domain.

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I started paying attention to electric aircraft several years ago because electrically powered aircraft could be much quieter than jet aircraft. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, here’s a surprise: the first generation of quiet, electrically powered aircraft are not going to be huge passenger aircraft flying quietly between major airports around the world. Rather, they’re most likely going to be urban air-taxis that take off vertically from skyscraper roof tops and buzz around major cities like swarms of dragonflies. In other words, a whole new class of small, short-range, vertical-takeoff aircraft suitable for a few (rich) passengers being ferried about by Uber—with pilots or (allegedly) autonomously.

Hmmm…does that mean less urban noise or more urban noise? Less chaos or more? We’ve noted before that NASA is partnering with Uber (and others) on this new class of vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Airbus and Boeing, along with many others aircraft companies large and small, have already demonstrated test VTOLs.

Remember that famous scene of King Kong climbing up a New York City skyscraper while being harassed by tiny aircraft? That dystopian retro-future is a scenario that might well make you pause to wonder.

So watch out! Aviation noise may mean something entirely different from what many communities organized around the National Quiet Skies Coalition think they’re battling now. Technology is already a step ahead, noise advocates must follow.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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