World’s first flying taxi, and other technology stories you need to read Published on "Forum Agenda", November 2023

Published in: Forum Agenda, 3. November 2023

  • This monthly round-up brings you the latest stories from the world of technology.
  • Top technology stories: Chinese flying taxi start-up receives initial safety certificate; NASA launches mission to metal-rich asteroid; investments in climate tech fall.

1. World’s first flying taxi cleared for take-off

A start-up in China has received the first certificate of airworthiness for an autonomous flying taxi – taking it one step closer to launching flights for the public.

EHang was awarded the “type certificate” on 13 October by the Civil Aviation Administration of China for its EH216-S unmanned aircraft system, making it the first eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) in the world to receive one.

The two-seater electric aircraft was put through rigorous tests including of its structural strength, crashworthiness and software simulation, among others.

“We hope to be the first in the world, in the short-term, to launch commercial operation of autopilot eVTOLs,” EHang founder and CEO Hu Huazhi told AFP.

Investment in eVTOLs is growing as traditional car manufacturers see the potential in the technology.

Meanwhile, in the US, there’s been a setback for driverless cars. General Motors’ Cruise unit has been ordered to remove its driverless cars from state roads in California.

The state has deemed the vehicles to be a risk to the public and accused the company of “misrepresenting” the safety of the technology.

2. Spacecraft takes off to explore asteroid

NASA has launched a spacecraft on a six-year mission to Psyche, the largest metal-rich asteroid in our solar system.

Scientists believe that Psyche is the core of an ancient protoplanet and that studying it can provide insights into Earth’s formation.

The Psyche probe will travel roughly 2.2 billion miles through space and is expected to reach the asteroid in August 2029.

It was carried by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

3. In brief: Other tech stories to know

Climate Tech

Investment and grants in climate tech start-ups have dropped by around 40% in the past year, according to a report by PwC. But this was less than the 50% fall in venture capital and private equity in other markets, meaning the share of investment into climate tech has actually risen.

It comes as US President Joe Biden kick-started the emerging hydrogen industry, by announcing seven proposed “hydrogen hubs” in 16 states that will share $7 billion in federal grants.

Japan’s trade and industry ministry has announced that Japan and Denmark will collaborate on researching and developing floating offshore wind power technologies. This partnership aims to address climate change and its impacts.

Canada will invest over $740 million in satellite technology to improve the Earth observation data it gathers to monitor wildfires and other environmental emergencies. The initiative, known as Radarsat+, will collect valuable information on Earth’s oceans, land and climate, the Canadian Space Agency says.

Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed special ceramic structures for a solar reactor using a new 3D-printing technique. Experimental testing has shown they can significantly increase the production yield of solar fuels.

Computers and robotics

Apple has announced new MacBook Pro and iMac computers along with three new chips. The company has redesigned its graphics processing units, a crucial component of the chip, Reuters reports.

Vietnam is reportedly in talks with chip manufacturers to boost investment in the country and create its first chipmaking plant. Intel’s biggest semiconductor packaging and testing plant is already located in the country.

Germany is increasingly turning to robots to automate hazardous manual work, as the country’s post-war generation of “baby boomers” retires, Reuters reports.

Electric vehicles (EVs)

Sales of electric vehicles (EV) in the US reached a record high in the third quarter, hitting more than 300,000 for the first time, according to Cox Automotive.

Meanwhile, in the EU, sales of fully-electric cars increased by 14.3% compared to the previous year, while full hybrid sales saw a growth of more than 30%, reported the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

This news comes as China’s restriction on exports of graphite – a critical mineral used in the construction of EV batteries – is set to impact the global EV supply chain.

Despite reports of strong sales, industry experts are warning of slowing demand for EVs due in part to continued high interest rates.

4. More on technology on Agenda

Autonomous mobility could have many benefits, including enhanced safety and efficiency, but there are challenges. Saudi Arabia is in the early stages of incorporating autonomous mobility into the country’s transportation landscape. Here are three factors that will be key to supporting the safe and responsible adoption of autonomous mobility.

A virtual power plant is a network of distributed energy resources (DERs) that are grouped to generate electricity and respond to demand. DERs include solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles and other devices that can generate, store or consume electricity, a professor explains.

UpLink’s Smarter Climate Farmers Challenge has selected 12 Top Innovators – entrepreneurs who are putting food, agriculture and climate at the forefront of their business model. Here’s how climate-smart tech could transform the way we grow food.

Image: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

About Sebastian Buckup