The Hyundai-Uber Electric Flying-Car Taxi: Hey, Why Not?
Hyundai is taking Uber into the third dimension with flying taxis. Sorry, electric flying taxis. Okay, one more time: electric-power Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs). They’re part of a Hyundai Urban Air Mobility (UAM) initiative, which also includes hubs where the air vehicles can set down and connect with local people-movers, or Purpose Built Vehicles (PBVs).
Hyundai says the project “aims to free future cities and people from constraints of time and space and allow them to create more value in their lives.” This would be the people in megacities who currently can afford helicopters to get around Manhattan, London, and the like. Hyundai says the eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft would have a range of 100 km / 60 miles and recharge in 5-7 minutes. Hyundai showed a full-size concept plane with (gently) spinning rotors at CES.
The flying-car part, the Personal Air Vehicle, carries five people, Hyundai says. There are two tilting rotors on the tail and 10 more on the main wing, also tilting. The plane takes off vertically, which it has to if it’s going to start the journey downtown and not at the airport. The propellors transition to forward flight with a cruise speed of 290 km/h / 180 mph and a range of 100 km / 60 miles. Once back on the ground, the fast recharge time means the craft can be on its way again quickly.
Hyundai says using many small electric motors makes the aircraft quieter than even the quietest combustion-engine helicopters. Hyundai has named the first concept PAV the S-A1. The five people on board are a pilot and four passengers. Hyundai adds, “The PAV will be operated initially by a pilot during the early stages of commercialization and enable autonomous operation once the relevant technologies are developed.”
The Hub is where the various acronyms come to meet. The UAM PAV flies in over the Hub, transitions the props to hover, and sets down on the Skyport atop the Hub. There the passengers alight and meet up with ground transportation, whether Uber or Lyft taxis, or the PBVs.
From Hub to final destination, Hyundai sees travelers using the Purpose Built Vehicle, “a ground-based eco-friendly mobility solution that provides customized spaces and services for passengers in transit.” The Hyundai PBV would offer “customized services in transit (ie, coffee shop, medical clinic).” Okay, we can see a flu shot or blood pressure check. But there’s a host of other medical services we’d just as soon not take part in with other passengers looking on. Or it may be that a PBV is a roving medical clinic, not a people transporter.
Hyundai showcased a full-size personal air vehicle at CES 2020, suspended from the ceiling of the Las Vegas Convention Center North Hall that is home to most of the automakers and suppliers. According to Euisun Chung, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group:
For our smart mobility solutions, we considered what truly matters in cities and in people’s lives. UAM, PBV, and Hub will revitalize cities by removing urban boundaries, giving people time to pursue their goals, and creating a diverse community. Our goal is to help build dynamic human-centered future cities and continue our legacy of progress for humanity. CES 2020 is just the start and we will continue to realize this vision.
Where does Uber fit in? The ride-hail service has talked grandly about new ways to transport people and as far back as 2016 talked about “Uber Elevate” in a white paper. Uber wants to start test flights in 2020 – yes, this year – and launch an initial air taxi program starting in Dallas and Los Angeles. We suspect that during the early years, Uber Elevate may be Uber Helicopter, and in fact, Uber more recently said it will shuttle people from lower Manhattan to JFK Airport, something others have done for decades before Uber existed.
It’s also been decades that people have talked about flying cars. Popular Mechanics has been big on the idea since just after World War II. So far, much talk, little action. Maybe Uber and Hyundai will fix that.
Hyundai is a company that can provide the design and manufacturing experience Uber lacks. But Uber is not monogamous in partnering. Over the past two years, it has dealt with other aerospace companies to potentially provide short-haul air transit: Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell, Embraer, Karem Aircraft, Joby, Jaunt, and Pipistrel.
It’d be great to see this happen. A lot must happen in the meantime, starting with finding the right vehicles and finding land.
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