In February, serial inventor JoeBen Bevirt stood before a camera in a chilly Northern California field. Behind him was a strange flying contraption. It had wings like an airplane, but also six propellers pointing upward, like a giant multicopter drone.
Bevirt was announcing plans for his company, Joby Aviation, to go public. But more interesting than what the CEO said in the video was the fact that you could still hear him talk, even as those propellers spun up and the craft rose off the ground. Sounding like the rush of wind, the mild propeller noise was a world away from the deep, thumping sound of a helicopter.
Bevirt’s dream is to fill the skies with these electric aircraft, serving as flying taxis that zip four passengers at a time over urban congestion. And he aims to start operations by 2024. Doing that efficiently, at a scale that makes it economical, requires securing a lot of places to take off and land—in a lot of neighborhoods where locals will rebel against fleets of buzzing or thumping aircraft.
“I founded Joby . . . with a principle that electric propulsion was going to be transformational in that we could build aircraft that were incredibly quiet,” explains Bevirt. “And therefore they could become a ubiquitous mode of daily transportation because of their ability to land where people want to go.”