Archer Aviation is a California-based start-up that wants to make electric flying taxis a reality. The troubling part? Its founders have no experience in aviation. Archer's website launched this week and claims the company is designing and manufacturing the aircraft itself and that they'll have a range of 60 miles, a top speed of 150 mph, and will take 20 minutes to recharge. Each aircraft will carry four passengers, plus luggage, and have a pilot.
On paper, Archer Aviation ticks all the boxes. Well, a lot of them. It's got an all-star crew of former aviation engineers from the likes of Boeing and Airbus on staff, but the founders are entrepreneurs, not aeronautical experts. Founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein's claim to fame is having cofounded Vettery, a job marketplace they went on to sell for $100 million, according to Business Insider. So there's business acumen aplenty. But translating those skills into an incredibly challenging and fledgling industry is a Herculean task.
Look out helicopters — The acronym eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) is something we’re all going to be seeing more of in the years to come. As the name suggests it refers to electric aircraft that, like a helicopter, can take off and land vertically, rather than needing a runway like an airplane. They’re envisioned as the perfect aircraft for flying taxis because they’ll be able to take off from rooftops in high-density areas, like those of downtown skyscrapers.
Archer’s only the latest in a growing line of companies exploring eVTOL technology. Ride-hailing service Uber is so interested in the technology in 2018 it held a conference called Uber Elevate where it unveiled a set of specifications for its own Uber Air eVTOL aircraft. Uber won't build the aircraft itself, leaving that instead to companies like Bell, Hyundai, Joby Aviation, and others.
We’ve yet to see any of Uber’s plans come to pass. And that’s because the challenges are enormous. Companies have to convince regulators and consumers their aircraft are safe, ensure they actually are, and still turn a profit. Archer acknowledges the numerous hurdles. It says the challenge ahead of it involves “high capital costs, advanced hardware technologies, [a] long timeline, and an overall very challenging business with low chances of success.” Look, no one said creating the future was going to be easy.
What we know so far — Aside from some information about its aircraft being able to use “battery technology that’s commercially available today,” Archer’s website is rather light on details. It does, however, claim that keeping noise levels down is one of its key concerns.
On the “master plan” page of its website, Archer explains it’s aiming for aircraft that are far quieter than helicopters and that can be operated in urban or residential areas without exceeding noise limits. That’s great news for anyone who’s ever lived next door to someone with a drone and knows how noisy a multi-prop electric flying machine can be.
The three most salient points from the master plan are these:
- Build an aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of electric VTOL
- Certify an aircraft that is just as safe as commercial airliners
- Launch commercial routes in cities & integrate autonomous systems for safety
We’d argue it’s missing a fourth: Profit! Jokes aside, we are absolutely ready for and wholly in favor of an affordable, speedy, sustainable, aerial solution to urban congestion. And we really hope to see it come to fruition. But we have also been burned by the likes of Magic Leap, which was the darling of investors but failed to deliver on its lofty promises. We really hope Archer Aviation makes it from unveiling a website to taking to the skies. But we’ll retain our inescapable skepticism until we can actually take a flight.