Last month, Hyundai teased a “flying car” concept that it was bringing to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The full-scale prototype is now on display at CES this week, but today, the South Korean automaker upped the ante. Not only will Hyundai mass produce these electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, but it will also deploy them for Uber’s promised air taxi network.
You’ll recall that Uber announced its aerial ambitions back in 2016 with a white paper that outlined a future “Uber Elevate” project. The ride-hailing company has said it wants to perform its own test flights in 2020, and plans to launch some version of an air taxi service in 2023, starting in Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles, California. Uber also recently announced that it will offer helicopter rides in New York from lower Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Now Hyundai is along for the ride (flight?). It’s noteworthy because Hyundai is in essence lending its manufacturing credibility to Uber’s ambitious (if dubious) plan to launch an urban air taxi system by the mid-2020s. Based on the specs, though, Hyundai’s Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) won’t be some Sonata in the sky. With two tilt-rotors on the tail, and 10 other rotors distributed around the egg-shaped cabin, the aircraft is designed to take off vertically, transition to wing-borne lift in cruise, and then transition back to vertical flight to land.
The five-person vehicle will have a cruising speed of 180 mph (290 km/h) and a cruising altitude of around 1,000–2,000 feet (300–600 meters) above ground. Hyundai says by using smaller, electric-powered rotors, the vehicle will produce less noise than a combustion engine helicopter, which is crucial for cities worried about noise pollution. During peak hours, it will require only about five to seven minutes for recharging. And Hyundai says it will have a range of 60 miles (100 kilometers) between charging.
And that’s not all. Hyundai also unveiled concepts for a landing hub and an eco-friendly “Purpose Built Vehicle” (PBV) for ground transportation to and from the station. The PBV resembles a beige rectangle and will utilize AI to find optimal routes and travel in platoons, Hyundai says. Each PBV will be able to serve various functions, such as transit, coffee shop, or medical clinic.
It all sounds great and fantastically futuristic on paper, but Hyundai has yet to conduct any test flights, piloted or otherwise, nor has it said how much all this will cost. There have been a handful of small-scale test flights of eVTOL aircraft around the world, but none are currently in commercial operation. The technology is still in its very early days, and Uber and Hyundai, as well as a variety of other players in the field, face enormous regulatory and technical challenges in getting their respective air taxi services off the ground.
Still, Hyundai is the first global automaker to join forces with Uber. The automaker will produce and deploy the electric aircraft, while Uber will provide airspace support, ground operations, and, of course, the app through which customers can book flights.
Uber released images of its own concept aircraft over a year ago, though it said it’s looking for partners that can meet its technology specifications — electric-powered, minimal noise, and vertical takeoff and landing capabilities — as well as a company that can scale production to build tens of thousands of vehicles to meet the demand of on-demand service. Uber has struck similar arrangements with seven other aerospace companies: Joby, Jaunt, Embraer, Pipistrel, Karem Aircraft, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Bell.