Developing Story

Uber details aerial ride-hailing platform

Over the last couple of days at the Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles, Uber has unveiled a number of partners and design concepts for uberAIR, the company’s planned aerial ride-hailing network. Its goal is to start testing these flights in 2020 in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Frisco, Texas, areas as well as Los Angeles. Uber is aiming for a 2023 commercial deployment.

These uberAIR ‘Skyport’ designs are beautiful

UberAIR is well on its way, with the plan to start demonstrating the technology in 2020 and start operating the flying taxi service in 2023. In order to get there, it’s going to need what Uber is calling “Skyports” — areas for these electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles to board and unload passengers.

On day two of Elevate, Uber’s architect and design partners revealed their concepts for skyports. All skyport concepts are required to be able to support more than 4,000 passengers per hour within a three acre footprint. The skyports must also ensure electric VTOLs can easily recharge in between trips.

While all of these skyports are structurally feasible, financial feasibility for cities is an entirely different story. Anyway, here’s a look at some new skyport concepts from Corgan, a design and architecture firm.

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The idea with the Mega Skyport, according to Corgan, is to create a system with modular components that can be adapted anywhere. The basic component, the skyport itself, could theoretically be added to open spaces, on top of parking garages or on the roof of skycrapers. Each skyport could handle 1,000 landings per hour. Corgan also envisions using this stations as community gathering spaces for things like concerts, art festivals and botanical gardens.

“The Station reconnects once divided neighborhoods that reside on opposite sides of the highway and therefore serves as a new community gathering point,” according to Corgan’s design prospective.

On day one, Uber Head of Aviation Eric Allison explained the node concept. Nodes are essentially skyport groupings to enable Uber to better manage the network of eVTOLs. For example, 40 nodes, Allison said, could manage trips for millions of people every day.

Another concept came from Gannett Fleming (above), which designed skyports that could support up to 52 eVTOLs per hour, per module. By 2028, the framework could handle 600 arrivals and departures per hour. The design, which enables solar recharging. uses robots to rotate the aircrafts while parked to better position them for immediate takeoff.

Pickard Chilton and Arup took a more vertical approach with their design for efficiency purposes. This design would enable 180 landings and takeoffs per hour, per module.

Next up is one from Humphreys & Partners. This concept is modeled after a beehive because, similar to a bee’s flight patterns to and from a hive, eVTOLs would replicate that same pattern in the Uber Hover. The design would accommodate 900 passengers per level, per hour.

The Beck Group took a similar bee-like approach with its design, called The Hive. Though, this design looks more like an actual hive than the one from Humphreys & Partners. This design could accommodate 150 takeoffs and landings per hour, and could be scaled to handle 1,000 trips per hour.

Last but not least is one from BOKA Powell. This design can handle 1,000 takeoffs and landings per hour and has a structure that can reverse itself in order to accommodate wind change.

Which one is your favorite?

Uber adds another flying taxi partner

Uber has teamed up with Karem Aircraft to develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles for the ride-hailing company’s upcoming flying taxi service, the companies announced today at Uber Elevate.

Karem Aircraft, which has patented Optimum Speed Tiltroter technology for military and commercial applications, has been working with Uber for about a year to create the Butterfly concept. This type of vehicle is supposed to be a passenger-friendly adaptation of Karem’s core technology.

“We were always dreaming of doing things commercially, but all of our funding came from the military,” Karem Aircraft founder Abe Karem told TechCrunch ahead of the announcement. “What we were doing was advanced and labeled ‘risky.'”

Now, Karem is able to do what people previously thought was impossible, Karem said. The Butterfly (rendered above) is a quad tiltrotor with four large rotors mounted on the wings and tail. The idea is to combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. The Butterfly is also designed to be more efficient as a result of its rotors with variable RPM.

“Variable RPM allows us to maintain good efficiency across a wide range of rotor thrust,” Karem Aircraft CEO Ben Tigner told me.

This partnership comes a little over one year after Uber announced a number of vehicle partnerships with established aeronautics and VTOL manufacturers at last year’s Elevate event. Other partners include Aurora Flight Sciences, Embraer, Bell Helicopter, Pistrel Aircraft, Mooney and ChargePoint. That’s because Uber itself isn’t building any vehicles — it’s relying on its partners to do that.

Earlier today, Uber unveiled its common reference model design concepts, with the goal to encourage companies and eVTOL manufacturers to design prototypes with uberAIR in mind. For example, the design model requires the propeller blades to be as high as possible in order to ensure people don’t have to duck while they’re boarding and exiting the aircraft.

As long as vehicle manufacturers can adhere to Uber’s common reference designs, they will be eligible to participate in Uber Elevate. By 2020, Uber envisions having multiple vehicle partners ready, Uber Head of Aviation Eric Allison told me, “but we’re not going to launch them if they’re not ready.”

It’s worth pointing out that Uber is not developing and producing its own vehicles. Instead, it’s relying entirely on its partners, which is what makes the announcement with Karem all that more important. In total, there are more than 70 companies working on eVTOLs for deployment in Uber’s air taxi network. The idea with Uber Elevate is to create an ecosystem with partners across the entire spectrum — batteries, skyports, vehicles and so forth, Allison said.

“We believe that this is a potentially huge market and it’s not just about the ecosystem,” he said. “You need the right ground infrastructure, as well as vehicles to make the overall system be much more useful on a larger scale than small plane aviation is today.”

Uber Elevate’s ultimate goal is to launch and operate a ridesharing network of small, electric aircrafts worldwide that can carry four people at any given time.

Other fun facts:

  • Uber hopes to demonstrate flights in 2020
  • uberAIR will be commercially available in 2023 in Dallas-Fort Worth and Frisco, Texas, and Los Angeles (Uber is no longer aiming for Dubai in its initial launch)
  • uberAIR hopes to hit speeds of up to 200 mph
  • uberAIR can travel up to 60 miles on a single charge
  • Cruising altitude must be ~ 1,000-2,000 feet above ground

Given that the airspace is much more regulated, Uber is prepared to create core systems that enable the entire ecosystem to operate. That means developing an airspace management system that is a more complex version of what we know today as air traffic control.

“Air transport is much more regulated,” Allison said, “and needs to be much more highly coordinated. It can’t be a total free-for-all in the sky.”

In order to achieve all of this, Uber will need skyports. Uber has also teamed up with real estate companies like Hillwood Properties and Sandstone Properties to create skyports for the uberAIR network.

Earlier today, Allison showed off some early design concepts. Here’s a quick look at one that could handle 1,000 landings per hour.

The below skyport, which Uber envisions sitting on top of a parking garage, could handle about 100 landings per hour.

I’ll be at Uber Elevate today and tomorrow, so be on the lookout for more news.

Here’s how much Uber’s flying taxi service will cost

Uber’s holding a big conference today in Los Angeles, Uber Elevate, to share more about its ambitions to launch a flying taxi service. For those unfamiliar, Uber’s goal is to start testing these vertical takeoff and landing vehicles in 2020 and have its first official ride in 2023. At the summit today, Uber Head of Elevate Eric Allison shed some light on the cost of uberAIR, Uber’s aerial ridesharing service, for consumers.

The passenger cost per mile, Allison said, needs to be competitive with the variable cost of car ownership. Car ownership, on a per mile basis, costs between $0.464 to $0.608, according to AAA.

However, uberAIR will not be cheaper on a cost per passenger mile at launch. Initially, uberAIR will cost $5.73 per passenger mile. In the near-term, Uber says it will get the cost down to $1.86 per passenger mile before ideally getting to $0.44 per passenger mile. At that point, it would actually be cheaper to use uberAIR.

Allison said to envision a world where your commute will be faster and cheaper through the air, to the point where it wouldn’t economically make sense to own your own car. Meanwhile, Allison said there’s “surprisingly large demand for aerial ridesharing.” That’s based on a study Uber conducted that found if uberAIR were available today, 700 million people would choose to use it.

I’m here at Elevate, so be on the lookout for more news over the next couple of days.

This is the first look at Uber’s air taxi concept

Uber sees a future where users can request a flying Uber. And it’s what, as CEO Dara Khosrowshahi calls it, a big, bold bet. He says in an interview with CBS This Morning that big bold bets are what built Uber.

“We want to create the network around those vehicles so regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” said Khosrowshahi.

The goal is for the flying taxis to be driverless and hold four riders per vehicle to keep the cost lower for the passengers. Users would haul the air taxi from an app and then meet it at an Uber rooftop facility. According to the CBS interview, Uber says the taxis will be relatively quiet thanks to multiple props and electric motors.

The company plans to launch trials as early as 2020.

Uber is set to unveil more details about its air taxi today and tomorrow at its Uber Elevate conference.