The Uber Elevate Summit took place in Washington D.C. this week, with two days of seminars, speakers and tech talks all on the subject of Urban Aerial Mobility (UAM…get used to the acronym). Here’s a video of Uber’s vision of how this might all work.
The event, hosted by Uber at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C. had some high powered speakers, too, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elewell, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX), and, well, more than a dozen other high-powered players and partners in the UAM game, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Eric Allison, head of Elevate.
What was the biggest takeaway for us? It’s nothing short of the observation that the sheer amount of enthusiasm and investment among people in powerful positions in tech, government and aerospace seems to guarantee that the segment will make a run at reality. And while the oft-mentioned goal of operations starting in 2023 seems unlikely, at least based on FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell’s frank remarks at the event, the 2020s are certain to make UAMs a force in aerospace. It remains to be seen whether that force winds up being disruptive in the traditional sense, in that the segment will create chaos and sow dissent, or in the new-speak version of the word, in that it will disrupt existing transportation modes for the betterment of the people and the economy.
Some of the news from the event follows (look for a feature story on the significance of this year’s Elevate Summit and the state of UAM in Plane & Pilot magazine soon.)
- Uber announced that it will begin flight trials of flying taxis in the Dallas, Texas, area next year (2020).
- FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell shared his views of the challenges the UAM faces with certification and infrastructure approval but also discussed changes in philosophy the FAA has ushered in over the last decade to make it more agile in approving new kinds of craft while still maintain a high level of safety.
- Uber also announced that it had started UberCopter, an urban transportation operation utilizing conventional helicopters that are networked with Uber ground vehicles. The service will bring paying passengers from New York City to John F. Kennedy International Airport in a hoped-for 12-minutes, all as part of a plan for the company to gain insights into operations of next-gen multicopter fleets.
- Attendees were treated to concepts for Skyport designs, with five Dallas based architecture firms presenting futuristic visions of the hubs where flying multicopter vehicles will take off and land.
- Pipistrel Vertical Solutions, a subsidiary of Pipistrel Aircraft, announced its five-seat Model 801, an all-electric design that utilizes four shrouded fans mounted in the wing and one pusher fan. Pipistrel will work with Honeywell on the avionics. The vehicle, Pipistrel claims, will be capable of forward speeds of 175 mph.
- EmbraerX, a subsidiary of Embraer, showed off its uber-cool entry into the VTOL segment with its yet unnamed vehicle, which features eight electric lifting rotors for hover and two electric pusher engines for cruising.
- Boeing showed off its Aurora VTOL concept, which looks very developmental at this stage. It’s powered by nine electric-powered rotors. Not many details from Boeing on this yet.
- Jaunt Air displayed a model of its new five-rotor design (four for cruise and one for lift/hover). The design will incorporate advanced noise reduction techniques, which many consider key to the UAM model succeeding.
- Bell Helicopter’s entry, Nexus, features six electric-powered ducted tilt rotors. It’s uber cool looking.
- Uber itself showed off a couple of its designs, which it intends not to manufacture but to share publicly as a technology seed project. The eCRM-003 Aria and the eCRM-004 both feature retractable rotor blades.