Aircraft

Uber flags future of flying taxis with flashy new concepts

Uber flags future of flying ta...
Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
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Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
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Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
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Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
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Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
Not be held down by its continuing troubles here on solid ground, Uber is pushing ahead with its flying taxi ambitions
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Not be held down by its continuing troubles here on solid ground, Uber is pushing ahead with its flying taxi ambitions
Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
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Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
Uber first revealed plans for its flying taxi service, which it calls Uber Elevate in a white paper in 2016
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Uber first revealed plans for its flying taxi service, which it calls Uber Elevate in a white paper in 2016
Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
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Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
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Uber imagines users of its flying taxi service traveling along fixed routes between hubs called Skyports
Not be held down by its continuing troubles here on solid ground, Uber is pushing ahead with its flying taxi ambitions
9/11
Not be held down by its continuing troubles here on solid ground, Uber is pushing ahead with its flying taxi ambitions
Uber first revealed plans for its flying taxi service, which it calls Uber Elevate in a white paper in 2016
10/11
Uber first revealed plans for its flying taxi service, which it calls Uber Elevate in a white paper in 2016
A new concept showing what Uber's flying taxis could look like
11/11
A new concept showing what Uber's flying taxis could look like

Not to be pinned down by its continuing troubles here on the ground, Uber is pushing ahead with its flying taxi ambitions at its Elevate conference in LA this week. Among the news to trickle out of the event is a new deal with NASA, along with some flashy new concepts previewing what the aircraft could look like.

Uber first shared its plans for a flying taxi service back in 2016, and it is not alone in harboring such ambitions. Boeing, Airbus and a host of aviation startups are also vying for territory in this area, and despite the fact that everything rides on a yet-to-be proven technology, a lot of money and resources are going into such efforts.

For its part, Uber imagines using vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft to carry people around urban centers. These aircraft would be electric to keep noise and carbon emissions to a minimum, have either two or four seats and take passengers on trips of up to 60 miles (96 km) between dedicated launch pads called Skyports. These would be piloted to begin with, and then fly on their own once autonomous technologies mature.

Were such a service to get off the ground, it would mean a lot more air traffic for urban centers, and that's where NASA comes in. The agency has been working on traffic management systems for unmanned aircraft like drones for a few years now, and last year signed an agreement with Uber to do the same for flying taxis.

Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020

This could mean that you have a low-speed channel of airspace reserved for hobbyists flying video drones, for example, with a high-speed channel above that for delivery drones and then another for flying taxis. Uber has previously said that its flying taxis will fly below 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

Initially, the partnership between NASA and Uber centered on general modeling and simulations, but the pair have now signed another deal that applies this to real-world airspace. Under the new agreement, Uber will share its plans and data around an urban aviation ride-sharing network, which NASA will combine with its airspace modeling to simulate light aircraft traffic around Dallas Fort Worth International Airport during peak travel times.

"The new space act agreement broadening Uber's partnership with NASA is exciting, because it allows us to combine Uber's massive-scale engineering expertise with NASA's decades of subject matter experience across multiple domains that are key to enabling urban air mobility, starting with airspace systems," said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer.

Meanwhile, Uber is using the Elevate summit to showcase some concepts of its flying taxis. As reported by Fast Company, one of these was an all-electric multi-rotor aircraft that uses stacked rotors to lift off vertically, but can travel at more than 300 km/h (186 mph) thanks to an airplane-like body.

A new concept showing what Uber's flying taxis could look like
A new concept showing what Uber's flying taxis could look like

Another was the first VTOL aircraft from Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, which takes more of a helicopter form and uses eight horizontal rotors to lift off vertically from building rooftops and launchpads.

Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020
Uber plans to publicly demonstrate its flying taxi service in 2020

Uber has signed on a number of partners to develop the aircraft for its Uber Elevate service. Another example is Virginia's Aurora Flight Sciences, which has been developing electric propulsion technologies for VTOL aircraft for years, including a battery system for DARPA's X-Plane. Last year it showed off a functioning model of what could become an Uber Elevate aircraft, with the agreement calling for 50 of them to be supplied to Uber by 2020.

As 2020 is the year that Uber plans to start demonstrations of its flying taxi service, beginning with pilots in Dubai, Dallas and Los Angeles, such a timeline does seem like a huge overreach at the moment ... but hey, that hasn't exactly stopped Uber before.

Check out the video below for a look at how Uber Elevate would work.

Sources: NASA, Embraer

Elevate | Uber

6 comments
Daishi
Why does it have to be electric? If they are going to launch a VTOL product why now just use combustion engines to power it? cars are a far better platform for electrification and (by far) most uber vehicles still are not electric. I'm not convinced they actually intend to do this.
over_there
These are creative artist impressions and have no chance of working, even the fact that they are electric is completley unrealistic
f8lee
One of the things Uber is apparently touting is that these flying taxis will help eliminate traffic issues, but I get the sense that long before these things will be viable in any way autonomous vehicles will be commonplace, and that means many traffic problems will evaporate as there will be far fewer cars on the road anyway. So, a silly pipe dream on multiple levels.
McDesign
IC multi-rotors don't respond quickly enough for flight dynamics.
guzmanchinky
Someday we will look at the modern helicopter, with it's incredibly vulnerable complexity and think how crazy people were to fly in them.
Towerman
""Why does it have to be electric?"" Your'e joking right ?? Of course it has to be electric, electric is far superior to an ancient technology such as the internal combustion engine, stove stokers are maintenance hogs and prone to breakdown, electric is super reliable in every way ! !