NASA tests the ups and downs of air taxi comfort with VR

Nobody would want a roller coaster ride in one of these long-promised flying cabs

NASA is testing what makes air taxi passengers comfortable – and uncomfortable – with a custom VR simulation rig.

The space agency has explored air taxis for a few years now, and is no stranger to trialing flying vehicles. However, NASA is now ready to test passenger comfort in air taxis, rather than assess whether air taxis themselves are viable.

These tests won't take place in an actual air taxi, but instead a flight simulator device kitted out with a virtual reality (VR) headset and a mechanical chair that is supposed to imitate the motions riders would experience in an air taxi. The simulation takes place in San Francisco, and takes virtual passengers from a parking garage to the top of a skyscraper.

The simulator setup was first tested out by NASA pilot Wayne Ringelberg to calibrate it for a future study scheduled to start later in 2024. However, research using the air taxi flight simulator is expected to last for four years.

"This project is leveraging our research and test pilot aircrew with vertical lift experience to validate the safety and accuracy of the lab in preparation for test subject evaluations," Ringelberg said. "The experiments in the ride quality lab will inform the advanced air mobility community about the acceptability of the motions these aircraft could make, so the general public is more likely to adopt the new technology."

The current, first generation of air taxis are based on vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technologies, such as electric VTOL (eVTOL). This is the type of flying tech Joby Aviation used for tests in New York late last year, and it's what Wisk expects to use when the company gets out of the testing phase and into the real world by 2030.

For its part, NASA has proposed its own version of VTOL that it terms Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT), though at its core it's still VTOL but apparently with better efficiency, lower noise, and greater safety. ®

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