Uber and Airbus on Flying Cars: Updates, Developments, Milestones

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【Summary】Uber and Airbus are preparing to dominate the flying car sector with strategic partnerships and cutting-edge VTOL aircraft designs.

Michael Cheng    Jun 14, 2017 7:10 PM PT
Uber and Airbus on Flying Cars: Updates, Developments, Milestones

Flying cars are due to take off in commercial markets in the near future. At the moment, there are several companies serving as catalysts to inspire, support and partner with businesses looking to pioneer VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) technology for public transportation.

Two brands currently leading this trend are Uber and Airbus. The ridesharing giant, which is also simultaneously working on self-driving platforms, first expressed its interest in commercializing VTOL technology in 2016, through the Uber Elevate white paper. Airbus, deeply anchored in the aviation sector, is developing VTOL through a low-key experiment called Project Vahana.

"It seems like the future has gotten here faster than we all expected," highlighted Zach Lovering, head of Project Vahana. "There clearly is a convergence of technology that has happened to make this a reality for all of us."

Find out how these two companies are preparing to dominate the flying car industry below.

Elevating Uber's Flying Cars

In the Elevate white paper, Uber outlined several challenges that developers could face in bringing VTOL-powered vessels to mass markets. One of these is infrastructure, which currently doesn't exist. To solve this issue, Uber has partnered with several businesses to build out launch pads, called "vertiports." Unveiled during this year's Uber Elevate conference, the ridesharing brand announced collaborations with Hillwood Properties in Texas and Dubai Holding in the UAE.

Additionally, Uber is calling on Chargepoint to work on and launch supporting technologies required to power its aircrafts. The California-based company, founded in 2007, operates around 34,000 EV charging stations worldwide. So far, it seems that Uber is counting on its partnerships to streamline development. When the technology is ready, the company will likely promote the service using its ridesharing network.

Project Vahana Coming Soon

Earlier this year, Airbus revealed it will have a fully working, flying car prototype ready for testing by the end of 2017. Last month, the business finally revealed what its all-electric, VTOL aircraft will look like – an oversized helicopter. First released in a concept video, the vessel is equipped with LIDAR sensors, radar and cameras to navigate around urban environments.

According to a company representative, commercials flights on Airbus' flying cars will cost between $1.50 to $2.50 per mile. If the company sticks to this price range, it will be able to compete directly with ground-based transportation services, which also falls around the same price points. The electric aircraft features a maximum range of 62 miles per charge and an emergency parachute system that is capable of saving the whole aircraft (and its passengers), in the event of failure. To reduce charging times, the power cells will be swappable.

Both Uber and Airbus are aiming for a 2020 release date. When it comes to regulatory hurdles, Airbus is slightly behind, as it is waiting for approval from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

"I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car," said Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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