Are you ready for electric flying taxis? Travel tech takes to the air
At the moment, when we’re told not to leave our houses unless absolutely necessary, the idea of flying taxis seems even more fanciful than ever. But, with more time on my hands right now, it’s the craziest of bright travel tech ideas that stop me scrolling and keep me distracted.
While Uber Elevate and its flying Uber Air taxis aren’t a reality in our skies yet, they really are one step closer, with testing proposed this year and commercial operations due in 2023. As the owner of a travel recruitment business with recruitment specialists in the travel tech sector, this sort of large-scale next-generation development is exciting. I like to keep one eye on the future of travel – and Uber Air definitely feels like it’s that.
Uber is proposing a fleet of electric air taxis under the brand name Uber Elevate, to be used via the Uber app. The company first put out a white paper on the idea of on-demand electric flying taxis back in 2016. At that stage neither battery life nor vehicle design were anywhere near ready for this to be a reality, and it all felt a bit pie in the sky. But since then they’ve partnered with a number of people to push the dream towards reality. These include transport hub specialists, NASA-trained vehicle designers, manufacturers including Hyundai, and many others. Money, it appears, is no object. Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angeles are the three named pilot cities for the program where test flights are supposed to start this year, and then offer services from 2023.
The point is to create cities with less conventional traffic congestion and cleaner air using a network of vertical take-off and landing aircraft, dubbed VTOLs (pronounced veetols). These space-age aircraft will be powered by distributed electric propulsion (DEP), a new technology, partly devised by Uber’s Director of Vehicle Engineering, Mark Moore, during his 32 years at NASA. While the VTOL aircraft most resemble helicopters, they are quite different. Instead of a large rotary blade, there are several small motors under 2 fixed wings, that look more like a hang-glider’s wings. However, finalised designs have not yet been released publicly.
The ultra-quiet zero-emission electric aircraft aim to allow fast commutes between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities, taking off from the tops of tall buildings. At flying altitude, noise from the flying taxis should be barely audible. Even during take-off and landing, Uber has said that the noise would be comparable to existing background noise. Ultimately, they will also be designed to use autonomous technology to reduce operator error. Though I find that a slightly terrifying thought right now, as we haven’t yet implemented driverless cars on our roads.
But I am definitely following this story with interest. Particularly when times are as difficult as they are right across the travel sector, this sort of large-scale investment in an exciting new travel technology and transport idea is hopefully a very good thing. And maybe when we all emerge from lockdown, our collective entrepreneurial spirit will be reignited with a fresh spark.
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