The third annual Uber Elevate summit is taking place this week in Washington, D.C., and the rideshare giant and its partners are using the opportunity to present their visions for futuristic urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles capable of moving people at operating costs far below traditional helicopters.
Uber isn't betting on any one vehicle. It has partnered with six UAM developers – the most recent addition, Jaunt Air Mobility, was announced yesterday – to hedge against individual companies encountering difficulties in this unproven space and diversify its offerings for customers. The commonality between Uber's partners is that each company believes its design fits a formula for cost-effectiveness critical to Uber's Elevate business model.
Here are the vehicle designs showcased by Uber and its partners at the Summit.
Karem Aircraft's latest aircraft design features four large rotors -- even the tail fins have tilting rotors -- and its optimal-speed tiltrotor technology, which allows for greater efficiency through variable rotor speed during horizontal and vertical fight. This tech also landed Karem a $738 million contract from the U.S. Army to develop its technology for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft development program.
In the UAM space, Karem is betting that its large, optimal-speed tiltrotors will provide efficient lift and quieter acoustics while drawing less power from batteries than designs with smaller rotors, allowing for near-term viability instead of relying on forthcoming battery technology.
EmbraerX, a subsidiary of Embraer, unveiled its latest eletric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) concept – and another high-production video – at Uber Elevate, with an emphasis on accessibility for passengers of all kinds. The vehicle doesn't yet have a name, and you can submit your own suggestion to the company here.
The company is featuring its own fly-by-wire system, a fully electric design and a mix of strut-mounted top rotors for lift and horizontal rotors for cruise.
Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences is keeping most of the details on its eVTOL offering under wraps, but it is a fully electric four-seater with nine rotors – four on each side and one on the back. It took its first flight in January, a successful short hover.
Jaunt Air Mobility
Jaunt Air Mobility was just announced as Uber's sixth manufacturing partner in the UAM space. Its proprietary slowed-rotor technology, which the company says is key to enabling lift with quieter acoustics than a traditional helicopter, is of great interest to Uber.
Designed as more of a hybrid between a helicopter and plane, the main rotor is only used during liftoff and hover and the propellers take over in cruise. Honeywell and Triumph Aerospace, respectively, are handling tip-to-tail avionics and structures for Jaunt.
Pipistrel Vertical Solutions
This subsidiary of Slovenian Aerospace company Pipistrel has been working on a family of eVTOL aircraft with varying capabilities. The design showcased above is a quarter-size model of the company's fully electric five-seater, the "801."
The 801 features eight in-wing fans that close off when in cruise mode to create an airfoil as well as one tail propeller, capable of powering it up to a 200 mph max speed. A longer-range hybrid version is also in development, according to CEO Tine Tomazic.
UberAir eCRM-003 Aria
Uber is not planning on manufacturing any vehicles, but the company is still developing patent-free concepts as part of a research exercise in an attempt to help progress the industry. The electric common reference model 003 (above) and 004 (below) both feature stacked rotor blades that can provide lift and then be retracted into the aircraft structure.
Bell's Nexus and its six ducted fans were on display, showcasing their transition from hover to cruise. During a presentation by Michael Thacker, executive vice president for technology and innovation, the Nexus was shown (virtually) in EMS and law enforcement regalia, hinting at applications outside of passenger transport.
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