After three months of discussions, Uber Elevate has selected The University of Texas at Austin as its partner alongside the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to develop new rotor technology for vehicles that the company will use in its uberAIR flying taxi network.
The news is the latest step in Uber’s plans to get demonstration flights off the ground in the megalopolises of Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles and Dubai. The ultimate goal is to have uberAIR services commercially available in those cities by 2023.
To achieve that, Uber has set up some rigorous specifications for its vehicle and the traffic management system used to operate uberAIR, developed in conjunction with several aircraft manufacturers and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Specifically for the vehicle, Uber is requiring a fully electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle that has a cruising speed of 150 to 200 miles per hour; a cruising altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet; and a range of up to 60 miles for a single charge.
The company isn’t the only one racing to own the sky taxi space for urban transport. Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang; Aston Martin; Rolls-Royce; Audi and Airbus and other, smaller, startup vendors are all trying to make flying vehicles. Ehang has been touting manned test flights of its drone already.
Uber, on the other hand, is trying to build out the service in much the same way it did with car hailing so many years ago.
The company actually unveiled its thoughts on air travel and design a few months ago at its Elevate conference.
At UT, a research team led by Professor Jayant Sirohi, one of the country’s experts on unmanned drone technology, VTOL aircraft, and fixed- and rotary-wing elasticity, will examine the efficacy of a new flying technology, which uses two rotor systems stacked on top of one another and rotating in the same direction.
Called co-rotating rotors, the new technology will be tested for its efficiency and noise signature, according to a statement from the university. Preliminary tests have shown the potential for these rotors to work better than other approaches while also improving versatility for an aircraft.
“There’s a lot of things to be done,” said Sirohi. “We are not doing vehicles. We’re doing a specific rotor system on one of the engineering common reference models that Uber has released.”
The reference model is a benchmark for what the aircraft should do in field tests and eventually operations, Sirohi said. “We are pursuing these technologies to see what the gaps are in where we are today and where we need to be,” Sirohi said.