Uber held its second annual "flying taxi" conference in Los Angeles this week, so we have lots of cool new conceptual images of strange hybrid drone helicopters that I could use to fly around the city at some point in time. the next decade. Or not! Who knows if this will start? But if it does, it will be because of these five companies.
Embraer and Pipistrel Aircraft, two aircraft manufacturers working with Uber, have launched new conceptual images of the planes they plan to build for the company's ambitious project. And Karem, based in California, which is the last aircraft manufacturer that teamed up with Uber, also had a new vehicle to show off.
The electric flight is still in the early stages of development, and it is not clear if the technological, regulatory and infrastructural obstacles can be overcome in time to comply with the Uber schedule. That said, Uber has assembled an impressive lineup of aviation equipment manufacturers to help realize their vision of urban air mobility.
In addition to Karem, Embraer and Pipistrel, Uber has partnered with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences and Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters) to develop aircraft for the air taxi project. (A previous partner, Mooney, is no longer working with Uber).
Uber has said that it is looking for partners that can meet its technological specifications (electric, minimal noise and vertical takeoff and landing capabilities), as well as can scale production to build tens of thousands of vehicles to meet the demand of the service at the request of Uber.
Karem is a smaller aircraft manufacturer, but it is still an interesting option for Uber. Abe Karem, founder and president of the company, is a pioneer in drone technology. They have called it the "dronefather" and the "man who invented the drone Predator" (although he makes it clear that it was not his idea to put him missiles).
Uber released images of his own conceptual airplane today, and had a tiny version on display at the conference. But it is important to bear in mind that Uber does not plan to manufacture any of the vehicles used for its air taxi service. Instead, it will rely on its manufacturing partners to design and build these electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL), as well as scale production to meet the demands of the proposed urban air mobility service.
The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer is over 48 years old, making it one of the most experienced manufacturers to join the Uber project. The company has around 19,000 employees worldwide, an annual revenue of $ 5.8 billion, and produces commercial, military and agricultural aircraft. However, urban air taxis and electric taxis to start would be a new company for the company.
"This is a great concept, but it is a great challenge, there is no doubt about it," said Embraer CEO Paulo Cesar Silva.
Aurora Flight Sciences
Aurora Flight Sciences, which specializes in autonomous aviation systems, was acquired by Boeing last year. The company has flown more than 30 flights without a pilot since its foundation in 1989, including a military helicopter that can be piloted using only one tablet.
During the Uber conference, Aurora CEO John Langford lamented the fact that there have been five decades of development of aviation technology that have not moved the needle for transport on demand or reversed the trend descending of the pilot works. He said that autonomy was the key to changing those numbers.
The concept of "Butterfly" by Karem is a quadrangular quilometer with four large propellers mounted on the wings and tail. The vehicle has larger thrusters than some of the other eVTOL prototypes, which helps create less demand on the vehicle's battery, explained Ben Tigner, CEO of Karem Aircraft. Slow-rotating rotors also produce less noise than normal, which could be a crucial factor in winning over NIMBY-minded urban residents.
Karem is working to build a large scale demonstrator of his concept of Butterfly.
Bell Helicopter renamed as just "Bell" last February, as it seeks to reimagine its identity as a vertical flight company. However, most of the revenues of the companies are found in commercial and military helicopters and in aircraft with tilting rotor.
Bell first showed his concept of air taxi cab at CES this year. At Elevate, conference attendees lined up to test Bell's VR experience within the vehicle's prototype. The concept of air taxi is similar in many ways to another plane unveiled last year: the FCX-001. Looking like a helicopter from Metal Gear Solid the concept vehicle was meant to serve as a platform for some of Bell's ideas about the future of vertical flight.
Pipistrel Aircraft, based in Slovenia, also took the occasion of the Uber event to rename itself as "Pipistrel Vertical Solutions". The company already produces small electric planes that can be purchased today.
Its last concept seems straight out of Star Wars and lacks many of the features – tiltrotors, visible helices – that the other prototypes have. Pipistrel's R & D director, Tine Tomazic, said the aircraft could travel longer distances at a higher speed than previous models. And it will be part of an "eVTOL family" that includes three other conceptual aircraft, Tomazic added.