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 for 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.