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Uber unveils flying taxi concept, plans UberAir service by 2023

The next step in Uber's plans for urban transport is an electric flying car for urban aerial ride hailing.

Uber

After helping to pioneer peer-to-peer ride hailing and working to bring self-driving cars to the road, Uber's next step will take it to a place where it won't need roads. At its second Elevate Summit in Los Angeles, Uber has unveiled its latest design reference for its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) concept, a flying car for its future urban aviation ride-hailing network.

Known internally as the eCRM-003, the eVTOL common reference model looks a bit like a cross between a massive drone and a small airplane.

Four pairs of co-rotating propellers provide vertical lift. Once at cruising altitude, the concept reverts to more efficient fixed-wing operation with a single rear rotor providing thrust.

Uber

Four rotors -- actually four pairs of co-rotating rotors, for a total of eight props -- are driven by electric motors providing vertical lift and bringing the vehicle to its cruising altitude between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. Being fully electric with multiple small rotors instead of a single large one, it should be quieter than a conventional helicopter and more efficient. The multiple rotors also add redundancy, so the eVTOL should be safer as well.

Once in the air, the eVTOL will switch over to fixed-wing operation with its airplanelike wings providing lift when moving horizontally and a propeller in the tail providing horizontal thrust up to a cruising speed of about 150 mph (with a top speed of 200 mph). Fixed-wing operation is even more efficient and brings with it an expected range for the electric aircraft of about 60 miles per charge. Uber expects an average mission length of about 25 miles with a 5-minute recharge between trips keeping the eVTOL running for about 3 hours of continuous operation during peak rush hours.

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With multiple small rotors and electric propulsion, UberAir's eVTOL should be quieter and more efficient than helicopters.

Uber

The design is built around the passenger compartment, featuring space for up to four passengers with their personal bags or backpacks. The spec has been penned to make boarding and deplaning easy with the design keeping the rotors and wings up and as far away from passengers as possible. 

Early eVTOLs will be piloted by a human, but the ultimate goal is for these vehicles to become autonomous.

Future eVTOLs won't just be landing in your driveway. The UberAir vision places skyports at strategic locations around urban centers where passengers will begin and end flights. The skyport model, Uber says, allows the company to effectively manage noise pollution, trip routing and flight planning coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and local air control. 

Passengers will plan and request flights within the same Uber passenger app used for ground transportation, which will also allow them to plan first- and last-mile transport to and from these skyports.

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Early eVTOL vehicles will be piloted, but the ultimate goal is fully autonomous operation.

Uber

Uber Head of Vehicle Engineering Team Rob McDonald made it clear during the Elevate Summit keynote that "Uber is not developing a vehicle." Instead, Uber hopes this reference concept will serve as a springboard for its partners who will handle the final design and manufacturing of the eVTOL vehicles. The first eVTOL demonstrations from those partners are expected by 2020.

From there, Uber plans to use the flying cars in its upcoming UberAir urban aviation ride-hailing networks, which it estimates will arrive in partner cities (including Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth) by 2023.

We're on location at the Uber Elevate Summit, so stay tuned over the next day or so for even more details regarding Uber's plans for urban air travel.