Autonomous vehicles aren’t the only transportation machines ousting humans as drivers in favor of AI (artificial intelligence)-enabled computers. Unmanned aircraft systems and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) operate with various degrees of autonomy, varying from remote human control to total autonomy thanks to onboard computers. The potential use cases for these devices seem limitless—from national defense and emergency response to remote inspection of critical infrastructure and beyond. NASA is even leveraging this technology for space exploration, sending the drone-like Dragonfly rotocraft lander to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 2026.

The global VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) UAV market is expected to reach $15.6 billion by 2027, according to a report from Research and Markets. That’s an increase from $4.4 billion in 2020. The military segment, Research and Markets’ data suggests, is set to grow by a 21.4% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) and reach $9 billion by 2027. The passenger transportation market will even benefit from this technology, as companies like China’s EHang bring AAVs (autonomous aerial vehicles) closer to mainstream by conducting trial flights, most recently in Japan.

Other companies are working to bring all-electric flight closer to reality. Lilium, a Munich-based provider of electric VTOL jet transportation technology, recently announced a partnership with Honeywell to develop its 7-Seater Lilium Jet’s flight control system. The all-electric VTOL jet builds on Lilium’s current five-seat demonstrator vehicle. The company plans to launch commercial operations of the larger, seven-seater jet in 2024. While Lilium’s machine isn’t pilotless, it’s another step toward an electric, autonomous future on the ground and in the air.

A new aerospace technology and advanced materials holding company called Xeriant is also moving the needle toward this AAM (advanced air mobility) future. Xeriant recently announced a joint venture with XTI, the developer of a super-fast, long-range commercial VTOL jet called TriFan 600. The hybrid electric TriFan 600 takes off like a helicopter but flies at the altitude and speed of a business jet, and XTI says presales for the aircraft already exceed $1 billion. The joint venture between Xeriant and XTI will accelerate the development of this ground-breaking technology, inching closer to building a full-scale prototype of the aircraft and formulating test and certification plans, the companies say.

Advanced air mobility will be an important component of the future of mobility, which will include more autonomous, hybrid electric, and all-electric options on roads and in the sky. A study released earlier this year from Deloitte and the AIA (Aerospace Industries Assn.) suggests the AAM market in the U.S. will reach $115 billion annually by 2035. The research also predicts the market will generate more than 280,000 jobs for Americans. Beyond the economic impact, Deloitte says it behooves the U.S. to pursue AAM leadership globally, because it can also provide national security benefits—for instance, by creating new, innovative ways to transport U.S. troops and cargo. Key to supporting this innovation will be continued R&D (research and development) investment in key technologies, as well as creating a conducive policy environment that fosters public-private partnerships and supports the ability for companies to test and certify their AAM vehicles.

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