Hyundai to build air taxis for Uber’s future aerial ride share network

Hyundai Motor is partnering with Uber to develop and potentially mass produce air taxis for a future aerial ride share network.

The partnership is the latest addition to Uber Elevate’s growing network that includes Aurora Flight Sciences, which is now a subsidiary of Boeing, Bell, Embraer, Joby Aviation, Pipistrel Aircraft, Karem Aircraft and Jaunt Air Mobility. Uber has also entered into a real estate partnerships with Hillwood Properties, Related, Macquire, Oaktree and Signature

Uber Elevate has previously said it plans to start flight demonstrations in 2020 and have commercially available to riders in 2023.

Hyundai made the announcement Monday at a press conference ahead of CES 2020, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. The automaker also unveiled a four-seater aircraft concept called SA-1, which was created in part through Uber’s open design process.

Under the partnership, Hyundai will produce and deploy the air vehicles, and Uber will provide airspace support services, connections to ground transportation and customer interfaces through an aerial ride share network. Both parties are collaborating on infrastructure concepts to support take-off and landing for this new class of vehicles, the companies said in a joint release.

“Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience of manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale,” said Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate. “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.”

Hyundai’s model unveiled at CES is designed to cruise at speeds up to 180 miles per hour and at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground, and a flying range of up to 60 miles. The concept vehicle will be all-electric, using distributed electric propulsion, powered by multiple rotors and propellers around the airframe.

Hyundai says the design, which uses smaller rotors, will be quieter than large rotor helicopters. The vehicle will require a human driver, or pilot, but the company claims it will become autonomous.

Uber’s annual flying taxi summit reveals Uber Air has a ways to go

Flying taxis are undoubtedly an exciting concept — one that Uber has put a lot of work into making a reality. In order to these electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles to become a reality, they need to have proper batteries, approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, buy-in from cities, public acceptance and, of course, vehicle partners.

Uber is aiming to start testing these aircrafts next year, and wants to commercially deploy Uber Air in Los Angeles, Calif., Dallas-Fort Worth/Frisco, Texas and Melbourne, Australia in 2023.

Right now, the model of Uber Air we may see in the skies will have a pilot on board. The model Uber unveiled at Elevate seats four people and one pilot.

[gallery ids="1841841,1841842,1841843,1841851"]

But there are a lot of moving parts, and the more moving parts there are means more room for error.

Designing the right battery

Let’s start with the batteries. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has repeatedly said that these vehicles need to be all-electric. But the batteries are nowhere close to where they need to be, Uber Director of Engineering for Energy Storage Systems Celina Mikolajczak told TechCrunch at Uber’s third annual Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C. this week.

Within the battery department alone, there are a lot of pieces to it, Mikolajczak said.

“The first thing you want is you want a cell that is capable of achieving the mission, and we’ve been working to try and identify cells that can do this job,” she said.

To be clear, the job is to travel up to at least 60 miles on a single charge, with a cruise speed of 150 mph. Mikolajczak is confident that current battery technology can achieve the mission, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. There are challenges around weight, thermal management and safety.

Embraer’s new EmbraerX eVTOL concept is accessible, autonomous and courteous

Short-distance commuter air travel has come a long way in the past few years – at least when it comes to concepts. The latest vision of how we’ll get around in the city skies of the (near?) future from Embraer evolves some of what we’ve already seen, and highlights a few things that make clear where it’s focusing its priorities – namely, on community adoption and acceptance.

The concept created by EmbraerX, which is aircraft maker Embraer’s market acceleration and innovation arm, features electric power, as well as vertical take-off and landing (the ‘eVTOL’ piece of the puzzle). Its optimized for a ride sharing model, and is focused on “user experience” as well as “making the aircraft easily accessible to everyone,” according to the company.

It includes redundant flight systems for safety, as well as an intentional effort to reduce overall noise output with an eight rotor system that distributes lift across the span of the vehicle’s body. The introductory video highlights how the concept vehicle can accommodate passengers who user wheelchairs, and there’s both fly-by-wire control for today, as well as all the technology on board needed for autonomous operation once the tech is ready.

No word on target timelines for bringing these to the actual skies, but this looks a lot more technically feasible when compared to existing aircraft, beyond maybe an electric drivetrain that can provide the kind of lift needed for transporting what looks like up to four passengers and doing so reliably and consistently.