Urban Transport

Hyundai unveils new Uber air taxi design

Hyundai unveils new Uber air t...
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
View 19 Images
Hyundai envisages its transportation Hubs as thriving urban community spaces
1/19
Hyundai envisages its transportation Hubs as thriving urban community spaces
By seating only four passengers, Hyundai's S-A1 concept avoids the "middle seat" problem
2/19
By seating only four passengers, Hyundai's S-A1 concept avoids the "middle seat" problem
The SA-1 would be capable of vertical take-off and landing – essential for urban success
3/19
The SA-1 would be capable of vertical take-off and landing – essential for urban success
Early Uber Elevate air taxis like the S-A1 would need pilots, but autonomous flight is the ultimate plan
4/19
Early Uber Elevate air taxis like the S-A1 would need pilots, but autonomous flight is the ultimate plan
Uber reckons Hyundai is well placed to disrupt the aerospace industry
5/19
Uber reckons Hyundai is well placed to disrupt the aerospace industry
Expect cruising speeds of up to 180 mph (290 km/h)
6/19
Expect cruising speeds of up to 180 mph (290 km/h)
The SA-1's four propellers swing up for vertical take-off and landing
7/19
The SA-1's four propellers swing up for vertical take-off and landing
Uber air taxis like the S-A1 will cruise at 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 m)
8/19
Uber air taxis like the S-A1 will cruise at 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 m)
Four propellers means more tolerance to failure, and hence greater safety
9/19
Four propellers means more tolerance to failure, and hence greater safety
At peak times, the S-A1 would need about 5 and 7 minutes to recharge, Hyundai claims
10/19
At peak times, the S-A1 would need about 5 and 7 minutes to recharge, Hyundai claims
Hyundai's urban transportation Hub concept will let passengers switch from air to ground transport, and much more besides
11/19
Hyundai's urban transportation Hub concept will let passengers switch from air to ground transport, and much more besides
The Hub is a landing pad-cum-taxi rank for both its air and ground vehicles to dock
12/19
The Hub is a landing pad-cum-taxi rank for both its air and ground vehicles to dock
Hyundai's vision for the future of urban transportation
13/19
Hyundai's vision for the future of urban transportation
How Hyundai's Hub, SA-1 and PBV concepts intermesh
14/19
How Hyundai's Hub, SA-1 and PBV concepts intermesh
It may look a little odd, but Hyundai's PBVs are based on San Francisco's famous cable cars
15/19
It may look a little odd, but Hyundai's PBVs are based on San Francisco's famous cable cars
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
16/19
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
17/19
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
18/19
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020
19/19
Hyundai and Uber team on the S-A1 at CES 2020

Hyundai has used the grand platform of CES 2020 to unveil its take on the future of urban mobility. At the heart of its plans is its S-A1, an electric flying taxi developed with Uber. A concept at this stage, the S-A1 is a four-passenger electric aircraft designed for short urban journeys made possible by helicopter-style vertical take-off and landing.

In the S-A1, Hyundai has become the first partner of Uber Elevate, Uber’s grand plan for transforming urban transportation by taking its ride-sharing business model to the sky. Hyundai’s S-A1 design builds on the design concepts established and shared by Uber Elevate in an attempt to help manufacturers stake a claim in the embryonic air taxi market. The S-A1 also constitutes the first fruit of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) division. (Though confusingly, Hyundai also refers to its air taxis as UAM.)

The SA-1's four propellers swing up for vertical take-off and landing
The SA-1's four propellers swing up for vertical take-off and landing

So it’s no surprise that the S-A1’s vital statistics are in line with the broader Uber Elevate concept. Expect cruising speeds of up to 180 mph (290 km/h), flight altitudes of between 1,000 and 2,000 feet (300 and 600 m), and journeys a maximum of 60 miles (100 km). At peak times, the S-A1 would need about five to seven minutes to recharge, Hyundai claims. Hyundai’s UAM division even comes with four principles: safe, quiet, affordable and passenger-centered, which are very much in line with Uber Elevate’s goals.

The vehicle itself boasts four small rotors, all of which rotate for vertical take-off and landing. Four propellers allow for improved safety in the event one should fail, and their small size is intended to help limit noise. Though there are no specific figures here, in the past Uber Elevate has targeted 67 dB at an altitude of 250 ft (76 m), equivalent to the volume of a normal conversation. Though pilots will be needed at first, in the long run, it’s envisaged that S-A1s and other Uber Elevate air taxis will operate autonomously – in line with Uber’s plans for its taxis on the ground.

Uber reckons Hyundai is well placed to disrupt the aerospace industry
Uber reckons Hyundai is well placed to disrupt the aerospace industry

Uber is bullish about Hyundai’s prospects at beating aerospace manufacturers at their own game.

“We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip,” Uber Elevate chief Eric Allison says in a Hyundai press release. “Combining Hyundai’s manufacturing muscle with Uber’s technology platform represents a giant leap forward for launching a vibrant air taxi network in the coming years.”

Alas, the announcement gets no more specific about what “coming years” actually means. Only a few years ago, the unveiling of an air taxi concept like this would have necessitated some “don’t hold your breath”-style caveat. But with Hyundai’s proven electric and hybrid vehicle expertise, along with Uber’s aggressive track record of disrupting urban transport, air taxis are now much more a case of when, not if.

Hyundai Hubs and PBVs

As well as the SA–1, Hyundai also announced concepts for smart urban transport “Hubs” and ground-based Purpose Built Vehicles (or PBV, as opposed to all the accidentally-built vehicles on the roads).

It may look a little odd, but Hyundai's PBVs are based on San Francisco's famous cable cars
It may look a little odd, but Hyundai's PBVs are based on San Francisco's famous cable cars

Apparently based on the appearance of San Francisco’s famous cable cars, the PBV is designed as a new take on the taxi which can simultaneously function as living space, restaurant or coffee shop. The PBVs can be adjusted between 13 and 20 ft (4 and 6 m) in length. They’re autonomous, and can operate either individually or in convoy. Perhaps most interestingly, Hyundai reckons it will be possible to charge PBVs en route (they would be electric, needless to say), using networked AI to hook up with dedicated charging PBVs as they go.

The Hub, meanwhile, is just that: a landing pad meets taxi rank for both its air and ground taxis to dock. Interestingly, the Hyundai press materials don’t even bother to point out that these will be used to recharge their vehicles, though that will inevitably the case. Instead they wax lyrical about “innovative new community spaces” where you can get out of your air taxi and into a PBV, and more besides.

Hyundai's urban transportation Hub concept will let passengers switch from air to ground transport, and much more besides
Hyundai's urban transportation Hub concept will let passengers switch from air to ground transport, and much more besides

“For instance, the Hub can be turned into a cultural complex by bringing together PBVs functioning as concert halls, movie theaters, and museums,” Hyundai says. “It can also be transformed into a medical complex by connecting medical service PBVs in the form of clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies.”

Quite where they’ll be room to do all this in the cramped, bustling cities of the future is apparently a question for another day. Oddly, the prospect of flying taxis seems the most plausible part of Hyundai’s exciting re-imagining of urban transportation.

Source: Hyundai [1], [2]

10 comments
paul314
An "urban air taxi" with a footprint comparable to a conventional helicopter, only with a tremendously expensive and trouble-prone tilt-rotor design. I am beginning to think that we can develop a pretty good profile of the kind of folks who throw development money at projects like this. (Next, we will learn that the not-really-taxis will be piloted by AI's on break from some other computing chore.)
christopher
For the same lift, smaller propellers produce exponentially more noise than larger ones... so "small" is *bad*, not as stated good, for the noise. Also - seems like a total waste of effort: there's nowhere to land these, and no safe places to fly them, and they can't be anywhere near people during operation (imagine the damage that lose city trash will do when propelled by the downwash for example, or the outcry the day one bumps into a skycraper killing occupants of the building the vehicle, and people on the ground, or the expense of relocating powerlines (and damage plus lawsuits when one gets entangled) etc etc.)
guzmanchinky
I wonder if these will ever be common. This one seems a bit needlessly complex but I'm not an engineer.
CarolynFarstrider
I can't wait for the sky to be blackened with deafening swarms of these contraptions, run by and for the wealthy.....
Colt12
It only gets better from here on out.
freddotu
I'm frequently amused that reports of more propellers means safety if one fails to operate. Asymmetrical thrust is a pilot killer and no amount of compensation on the three live units will cover for the dead one. Perhaps in horizontal flight, some chance is to be had, but there better be a good long runway for the landing.
ljaques
I think Carolyn has the proper view and the true cost (to the masses) of their use. Can you say "Noise Pollution"? I knew you could.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
@paul314, I don't think this is a tilt-rotor design, but rather fixed horizontal and vertical props that turn off & fold the blades (for the horizontal ones) for lifting-wing flight. However, if the motors are electric, then tilting them is actually very simple & reliable and would be a significant cost/complexity savings compared to this. The main reason that current tilt-rotor designs are so complex is because they're using turbine combustion power and all the power-transmission issues involved with that. Also, the best way to keep people separated from the spinnie-choppie blades would be to have the lifting/flying portion of the aircraft (engines/blades/wings etc.) separate from the passenger pod with a detachment mechanism. Then the pod could be loaded & unloaded completely clear of the danger, noise and draft wind, and simply picked up or dropped off by the flying portion of the craft once people are clear/safe. Totally agree with the points about noise pollution from commenters, tho!
Jerome Morley Larson Sr eAIA
I predict that these self-piloting drones will be ubiquitous long before self-driving vehicles simply because they do not have to operate with humans — energy capture and storage technologies will soon or may already have progressed so that they will capture sufficient energy to keep operationg indefinately, never needing to recharge — the issues of noise, prop wash etc will seem quaint as absurd simplicity takes hold — flocks of drones will operate same as flocks of birds used to before they disappleared, using similiar AI— they will take off and land same as a helicopter but change to horizontal flight and achieve sub-sonic speeds so to go from one’s suburban street in New Jersey to downtown Chicago if a few hours for a few pennies a mile ($30). The implications for urban design are immense.
ei3io
The predictions of very high speed long flight times without recharging while in silent operation and in total safety sure sounds like science fiction. I predict the world will soon see a huge leap toward those goals with a new form of propulsion that uses electric charge to move air mass thrust but with no moving parts. Stay tuned,,,,