Uber and Hyundai pledge to fly users over traffic-choked cities

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Every year, the topic of flying cars, VTOLs, and autonomous air taxis comes into discussion, usually around the same time as CES unravels in Las Vegas. 2020 was no exception, because Hyundai Motor and Uber had big news to share: the two companies have agreed on a partnership that would permit the development and use of Uber Air Taxis as the pivotal part of an aerial ride share network.

Uber’s plans for airborne rides are perhaps best described by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi words. He believes that the future of transportation has to be shared, electric, and in three dimensions, and that plenty of big cities around the world will want to be a part of the initiative. Let’s see how that reflects in the freshly-sealed Uber-Hyundai deal.

Why is the Hyundai-Uber air ride-sharing partnership important?

2020 Hyundai Flying Taxi
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The cooperation between the two companies holds more significance than you might think. First of all, Hyundai’s involvement sends troubled Uber a massive vote of confidence since the South Korean giant is the first Uber Elevate partner that can provide and sustain a manufacturing plan to mass-produce Uber’s Air Taxis. Most likely, Uber hopes Hyundai’s willingness to support its efforts will work two-fold: on one hand, the carmaker will play a leading role in building VTOLs, while on the other hand, it might spur fellow car manufacturers in joining what could become a powerful alliance.

The Hyundai Air Taxi Model

Dubbed S-A1, Hyundai’s eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft) presented during at CES 2020 looks a lot like Uber Elevate’s previous designs and unsurprisingly, it satisfies the initial requirements. That means that the S-A1 is capable of a cruising speed of up to 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) at an altitude of 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 meters). It can also fly for roughly 60 miles (100 kilometers) on a single charge, requiring about five to seven minutes for full recharging during peak hours, according to Uber.

Although these details are not specified by the announcement made in Las Vegas, some of Uber’s previous eVTOL requirements included the following:

  • vehicle footprint of 50 ft
  • vehicle height of 20 ft
  • cargo payload of 980 lb, including people and luggage
  • rapid charging capability: 600 kW
  • noise level: 15 dB quieter than today’s light helicopters, so around 70 dB SEL at 700 ft
2020 Hyundai Flying Taxi
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Propulsion-wise, the aircraft has electric motors that power multiple rotors and propellers strategically placed around its frame. Uber says that the way the rotors are positioned increases safety by decreasing any single point of failure and in addition, ‘having several, smaller rotors also reduces noise relative to large rotor helicopters with combustion engines, which is very important to cities.’ As a result, the S-A1 can take off vertically and transition to wing-borne lift as it begins to cruise, then switch back to vertical flight as the pilot begins the landing sequence. The sketches show four main rotors - two on the eVTOL’s tail and one on each wing, assisted by four propellers mounted horizontally in facing pairs, on either side of the cabin. Two more pairs of horizontal propeller blades are positioned behind the main wing rotors, facing the rear of the aircraft.

Speaking of pilots, these eVTOLS will benefit from direct human input at first, but Uber plans to gradually switch to autonomous technology.

Each aircraft can carry four passengers (excluding the driver) and each can bring a personal bag or backpack aboard the aircraft. If you’ll look closely at the adjacent photo gallery, you’ll see that the concept seats Hyundai prepared for the aircraft look a lot like those found in a car, except they sport a sleeker frame and better side bolstering. There’s even an armrest between them, complemented by two cup holders positioned lower. Initially, Uber mentioned France’s Safran as its partner tasked with designing and developing the eVTOL cabins, but it looks like Hyundai will handle those processes now.

2020 Hyundai Flying Taxi
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What’s more, as part of the partnership conditions, it is Hyundai who will assemble and deploy the eVTOLs, while Uber’s left to provide airspace support services, connections to terrestrial transportation, and customer interfaces, as well as manage the app that would allow access to the aerial ride-sharing network.

Final Thoughts

2020 Hyundai Flying Taxi
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Although well in its infancy, the ‘flying car’ industry, or more realistically, that of VTOLs and eVTOLs, has quite a lot of supporters. What’s more, with companies like Uber and Hyundai joining forces to actually generate traction - or should we say, lift? - and lead to the development of ride-sharing aircraft and networks, who’s to say that others won’t want to join in? If Uber’s forecast is true and there are big cities willing to implement airborne ride-sharing solutions, then it won’t be long before swarms of eVTOLs will find themselves buzzing above large cities at first, taking passengers from one heliport to another in no time. A big contributor to this industry’s development will be a municipality’s ability to fight clogged traffic: without working solutions applied in the next couple of years, moving mobility above our heads could be the obvious choice.

Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read More
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