The role of brand and design for autonomous flying
By Klaus Tritschler | Partner
Autonomous vehicles will become THE platform for inner city mobility. Similar to the behaviour change set in motion by smartphones, autonomous cars will create previously unknown needs and desires. Though AVs will increase shared rides, decrease accidents and improve traffic flow, they will also become a platform for entirely new use cases. That is why AVs will not solve the challenge of congestion.
The solution for fast urban and suburban travel? Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing AirTaxis (or, eVTOL AirTaxies). These will cover congested territory in less than a quarter of the time achieved by road-bound vehicles.
The change from traditional cars to AVs will result in behavioural changes on a massive scale.
The same technologies enabling AVs are making on-demand autonomous AirTaxies possible. There are challenges however. Energy density in batteries limits range and useful load. Noise is a public concern. A legal framework has to be created. The promise of a solution to these challenges has created a “gold rush” atmosphere in the industry with over 20 companies worldwide working on eVTOLs. Within five years we can expect short distance and fixed route piloted ferry services in megacities. Over time, these will grow to a medium distance and autonomous operations. That’s when we can really talk about a technological revolution enabling a new era of personal air transport.
Is technology enough to make autonomous air taxis successful?
AirTaxis will be a premium service, not a recreational activity. To this end, customers will expect a seamless end-to-end user experience. From the initial service request to post-flight. Ergonomics, comfort and safety are vital. In contrast to cars however, safety will not just be assumed - especially, because at scale, eVTOL AirTaxis have to be autonomous to make the business case work. But without a pilot, who does the customer trust?
Without a pilot to trust, customers must trust the brand.
Lifted 300-metres into the sky without a pilot, the question of trust is quickly evident. Trusting the flying machine, the technology and brand is critical. Establishing such a level of trust is a long-term effort that includes educating the public, demystifying fears and communicating a clear vision.
Once the service is available, consumers will not be appeased with reading safety features and specs. Safety and trustworthiness must be “felt” by the consumer. Achieving this depends on the user experience being deliberately designed from the inside-out, through the lens of the customer.
Who will be first to match technology with a brand and user experience that customers trust – and desire?
A positive AirTaxi experience starts with a robust and user-friendly user interface met with an aircraft that visually expresses the core qualities that matter for flight. Here, safety, reliability and familiarity are blended with modernity. Interior design plays a large role in making passengers feel comfortable too. Large windows provide and open view, but can also feel exposed. During flight, passengers should feel that they know what is happening, without information overload. Allowing passengers input, will give them a sense of control. Contact with ground operations for information and comfort should always be available.
With a user-focused inside-out approach, we are able to design the user experience so that it generates the desired customer responses. It’s a deliberate and strategic process requiring collaboration of partners from disciplines as varied as technology, research, brand and design. Technology must move forward as fast as possible together with brand, design and user experience, because for autonomy in the skies the race is on.