"That is cool," was the response from 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper after touching down in a vehicle called Hexa. It looks like an oversized drone that people can fly in and is what's known as an eVTOL, which stands for electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle. The team behind Hexa believes it's the future of travel.
Hexa is made by Austin-based Lift Aircraft, and Cooper was the first person outside of the company to take the aircraft for a spin while reporting on eVTOLs for a story that aired
Unlike traditional pilot training which can take years, Cooper only needed to spend about thirty minutes in a virtual reality simulator in order to operate Hexa. When it came time to fly, the company put a few restrictions on Cooper's flight: computers limited how high, how far and how fast Cooper could fly. There was also a pilot on the ground that could takeover remotely if he got into trouble.
"[The ride] only lasted about nine minutes, but it was really thrilling," Cooper told 60 Minutes Overtime.
Lift's CEO, Matt Chasen designed the aircraft Cooper flew in as a so-called ultralight vehicle, which means it does not have to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, but cannot fly over populated areas. Chasen plans to offer joyrides to paying customers later this year and hopes his vehicle will give passengers a taste of the future of air travel until eVTOLs are ready to be deployed in our everyday life.
Thanks to recent improvements in batteries and computing technology, an entire electric aviation industry has emerged over the last decade. Dozens of companies have invested billions of dollars to create a wide range of eVTOLs. Visions among the companies differ with some anticipating their vehicles will be used as air ambulances, others to carry cargo, and many more are hoping to get into the business of operating air taxis.
If Hexa is designed to give customers a taste of what's to come, there are many other companies working towards certification with the FAA to make that future a reality sooner than you might think. Cooper visited two other start-ups to check out their designs for eVTOL air taxis: Joby Aviation, an industry leader that hopes to begin service as early as 2024, and Wisk Aero which is building an autonomous eVTOL that will carry passengers without a pilot in the cockpit. Though Wisk's launch is likely much farther out, they believe autonomy will be crucial to widespread adoption of eVTOLs.
The industry does face its challenges. For one, the FAA has not yet certified an eVTOL for commercial use and infrastructure will need to be built – including the vertiports where eVTOLs would take off and land.
You can watch Anderson Cooper's full report on eVTOLs below.