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.

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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.

Electric flying taxi service Lilium poaches key hires from Audi, Airbus

Lilium, the developer of a new, electric, vertical take-off and landing vehicle for a novel flying taxi service, has poached some pretty big former executives from Airbus and Audi as it builds out its technology and gets ready to bring its service to market.

Mirko Reuter, the former head of automated driving at Audi, has come on board as the head of autonomous flight at Lilium. Jakob Waeschenbach, who worked as the head of equipment installation at Airbus, and Rochus Moenter, former vice president of Airbus’ finance and leasing group, have joined Lilium as head of aircraft assembly and general counsel and head of legal, respectively. 

Co-founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen and Matthias Meiner, Lilium’s vision is to create a network for its proprietary vertical take off and landing vehicles that will slash the costs of air travel and can ostensibly take a passenger from Paris to London in about an hour.

Reuter, a longtime head of automated driving at Audi will be responsible for leading and developing the process and technologies necessary to bring autonomous aircraft systems to market, the company said in a statement.

I am deeply committed to our mission of creating a revolutionary service that enables effective and affordable transportation that is widely used among all sectors of society. At Lilium, we are building a new and revolutionary way of transport, and I am very excited to be a part of it,” said Reuter, in a statement. 

Lilium’s bulking up its executive team as it prepares for a rollout of its first vehicles in 2019, according to news reports. In 2017, the company raised $90 million in fresh funding from investors including TencentLGT, the international private banking and asset management group; AtomicoLilium’s Series A backer founded by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström; and Obvious Ventures, the early-stage VC fund co-founded by Twitter’s Ev Williams.

The funding, and the executive hires, lend credence to Lilium’s business in an increasingly competitive industry (yes, the flying taxi industry is competitive).

German automaker Daimler joined a consortium of investors that backed Volocopter with roughly $28.5 million and the ride-hailing service Uber is working with Brazil’s Embraer and the Slovenian company, Pipistrel, to develop its own flying taxi. Indeed, the airplane manufacturer, Airbus, has its Vahana autonomous flying taxi, which it is hoping to bring to market in the coming years.