At its Uber Elevate Summit on Tuesday, global ride hailing platform Uber announced that it had selected Aurora Flight Sciences as a partner to develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for its recently announced Uber Elevate Network. Mark Moore, Director of Engineering for Uber, said in a statement,
Uber is taking a big step forward toward making the world's first VTOL network a reality and our partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences will help get us off the ground. The Elevate VTOL network will help improve urban mobility around the world and transform the way we travel.
The partnership agreement provides the basis for a system of urban transportation solutions that will enable users of the Uber Elevate Network to request an Aurora eVTOL aircraft via Uber's mobile app. Aurora Life Sciences recently did a successful first test flight of the aircraft on April 20, 2017. Aurora shared a concept video, and a brief of their test flight here-
In October 2016, Uber released a 98-page document titled, 'Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation', in which it outlined the need for a new aerial solution to the current transport problems. It noted,
What if you could save nearly four hours round-trip between São Paulo’s city center and the suburbs in Campinas? Or imagine reducing your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes.
Image credit- Uber Elevate
The above image estimates that the intial cost of VTOL vehicles would be comparatively higher($36) compared to $9 price for the same distance via UberX. But the company believes that in the long-term, the cost could be brought down drastically.
Uber noted that every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide. In many global megacities, the problem is more severe: the average commute in Mumbai exceeds 90 minutes. But recent technological advances have made it practical to build a new class of VTOL aircrafts, that make use of electric propulsion. So these vehicles will have zero operational emissions and will likely be quiet enough to operate in cities without disturbing the neighbours.
Over a dozen companies, with as many different design approaches, are working to make VTOLs a reality. In 2016, Google co-founder Larry Page invested in two startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, according to a report from Bloomberg. While not too much is known about them, Zee Aero seems to be working on an all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically — a flying car. A report suggests that Kitty Hawk recently got licences to test-fly its vehicles equipped with helicopter-like rotor blades.
The closest equivalent technology to VTOLs in use today is the helicopter, but helicopters are considered to be noisy, inefficient, polluting, and expensive for mass-scale use. One can read more about the industry assessment and market feasibility about Uber Elevate here. To understand more about how the taxi space could be impacted by the arrival of autonomous vehicles and flying cars, read this piece-
The release noted that Aurora's eVTOL concept is derived from its XV-24A X-plane programe currently underway for the U.S. Department of Defense and other autonomous aircraft the company has developed over the years. Uber and Aurora now believe that their goal of delivering 50 aircraft for testing by 2020 is well within reach. Aurora CEO John Langford noted,
The Uber Elevate mission is about low noise, high reliability, and low cost. By drawing on our nearly 30 years of successful autonomy and robotic programs, Aurora is well positioned to deliver on this urban solution. We have already built and flown the first proof-of-concept aircraft and we're excited to partner with Uber in accelerating the eVTOL initiative.
Website- Uber Elevate Summit