Hyundai and Uber Announce eVTOL Air-taxi Partnership

 - January 7, 2020, 6:38 AM
Hyundai Motor Company is developing its S-A1 eVTOL aircraft for the Uber Air rideshare air taxi program.

Hyundai Motor Company and Uber are working together to develop a new electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to be used for rideshare air-taxi service. The announcement was made on the eve of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, making the South Korean automotive group the eighth prospective eVTOL aircraft manufacturer selected by Uber to support its planned Uber Air rideshare service.

This week at CES, Hyundai is displaying a scale model of a “personal air vehicle” designated the S-A1. The all-electric aircraft is projected to offer a range of 60 miles, speeds of up to 180 mph, and a cruising altitude of between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.

Hyundai has yet to announce a timeline for certifying the new aircraft and it is unclear when it expects to fly a full-scale prototype. An Uber spokesperson told AIN that it anticipates the Hyundai aircraft entering service in 2028.

According to Uber, it intends to start flight demonstrations this year and be ready to start commercial air-taxi service in 2023. It is not yet clear which of its manufacturing partners will have aircraft ready to meet this timeline, and the rideshare pioneer says that it has no preference as which is first to market.

The Uber Vehicle Engineering team, led by former NASA engineer Mark Moore, has developed what it calls the eVTOL Common Reference Model to determine key requirements for air taxi aircraft and it works with the prospective manufacturing partners to achieve these "to ensure that the rider experience will be very similar."

Uber's requirements for aircraft are as follows: range of up to 60 miles; 150 mph speed; the ability to make what it calls a "three hour sprint" of 25 mile trips; and capacity to carry a pilot and four passengers.

The eVTOL, which features four sets of rotors for vertical lift and four propellers for cruise flight, will seat four passengers. It will initially have a pilot on board, but the plan is for the S-A1 eventually to be flown autonomously. According to Hyundai, the aircraft’s batteries will need between five and seven minutes to recharge.

Uber said Hyundai will be able to produce aircraft on a far greater and more cost-effective scale than its other partners. These include experienced aerospace companies such as Boeing (through its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary), Embraer, Bell, and Pipistrel Aircraft, as well as three startups: Karem Aircraft, Joby Aviation, and Jaunt Air Mobility.

“Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience of manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale,” said Uber Elevate head Eric Allison. “We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high-quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip. Combining Hyundai’s manufacturing muscle with Uber’s technology platform represents a giant leap forward for launching a vibrant air-taxi network in the coming years.”

Jaiwon Shin, the recently appointed executive vice president and head of Hyundai’s urban air mobility division, said its aircraft will “transform the concept of urban transportation.” However, Hyundai has not outlined how many engineers it has working on the new program and what experience they have in developing aircraft.

Hyundai is also unveiling this week at CES its Purpose Built Vehicle (PBV), which it bills as an “eco-friendly” ground-based mobility solution, and the Hub, which it said will be used for transfers between the PBV and the new Hyundai eVTOL. The company did not announce a development timeline or specifications for either the PBV or Hub.

[This story was updated on January 8 to include further information provided by Uber.]