The Model for Urban Air Mobility that Big Money is Backing: Toyota’s $394 M Investment in Passenger Drones

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Joby Aviation, pioneers in electric propulsion aircraft, have just received another massive funding round to make their vision of urban air mobility (UAM) – drone taxis – a reality.

Urban Air Mobility is a big topic, and there are a lot of players in the space.  There are a variety of different models of how UAM might work – everything from the Jetson’s idea of everyone in their own flying car, or the idea of a pod on top of wheels that could also be lifted into the air, to passenger drones as part of a large public transportation infrastructure.

The model that seems most likely to emerge first, however, is Mobility as a Service (MaaS).  That’s the Uber or Lyft model: call for a ride through an app when you need one.  The Joby Aviation model is even more realistic and easy to understand – book your flight from your app, go to the nearest drone port to pick it up, and the drone taxi will take you to the droneport nearest your destination.  Areas all over the world could benefit significantly from the model.  In the U.S., many come to mind.  In Boston, a drone taxi might go from North Stations to South Station: in Northern California, commuters might avoid rush hour traffic getting from Silicon Valley to San Francisco.  Jersey to New York.  Baltimore to D.C.

The drone taxi might not get you door to door, but it could be a significant part of a longer commute – and get more people out of individual cars to use a combination of public transportation and ride services.  Traveling from droneport to droneport solves many problems of safety and regulation: regularly scheduled flights along a defined path make it easy to avoid conflict between unmanned and manned aircraft.

With this latest big funding round, Joby Aviation – and Toyota, as investors – are poised to take on Uber in the UAM space.  Joby says that the company plans a 3 step plan: developing an aircraft; launching an air services company; and scaling production until UAM becomes affordable for the public.  This funding round could get them to the next step.

The following is a Joby Aviation press release.

Toyota Motor Corporation Leads the Investment Round with $394 Million Investment

Santa Cruz, CA, January 15, 2020 – Joby Aviation, a pioneer in the development of an electric air taxi, has raised $590 million in Series C funding led by Toyota Motor Corporation. Prior investors, including SPARX Group, Intel Capital, Capricorn Investment Group, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, and AME Cloud Ventures, also contributed to the round, and were joined by new investors Baillie Gifford and Global Oryx (ALJ family’s investment arm). Shigeki Tomoyama, the Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation, will join Joby Aviation’s board of directors. This new investment brings the Company’s total funding, including previous rounds, to $720 million.

Joby Aviation’s mission is to bring fast, affordable, and zero-emissions air mobility to communities worldwide. Over the past 10 years, the Company’s team of engineers and physicists has developed a quiet, all-electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, which will be instrumental in the commercial launch of the emerging on-demand urban air taxi market. Toyota will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation’s aircraft. This support, along with the capital investment, will accelerate the certification and deployment of this new mode of local transportation.

“We are building a new system for transportation to transform your daily life, at greater safety and, in time, at a similar cost to driving,” said Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt. “This collaboration with Toyota represents an unprecedented commitment of money and resources for us and this new industry from one of the world’s leading automakers. Toyota is known globally for the quality and reliability of their products driven by meticulous attention to detail and manufacturing processes. I am excited to harness Toyota’s engineering and manufacturing prowess helping to drive us to achieve our dream of saving a billion people an hour a day.”

“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota, and while we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky,” said Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda. “As we take up the challenge of air transportation together with Joby, an innovator in the emerging eVTOL space, we tap the potential to revolutionize future transportation and life. Through this new and exciting endeavor, we hope to deliver freedom of movement and enjoyment to customers everywhere, on land, and now, in the sky.”

About the aircraft:

Joby Aviation’s aircraft is a piloted, five-seat vehicle capable of both vertical takeoff and landing and highly efficient, wingborne forward flight. It is capable of speeds of 200 miles per hour and can fly over 150 miles on a single charge. The aircraft is 100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying overhead. The passenger experience is optimized for comfortable ride-sharing operations and efficient entry and exit.


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