Safran and Uber are displaying a cabin mockup of an urban air taxi concept vehicle this week at NBAA-BACE (Booth N1816). Safran and Uber collaborated on the mockup to provide guidance to companies proposing entrants into the emerging eVTOL/urban air mobility/air taxi market. The mockup was completed by Safran’s cabin products division’s advanced design studio in Huntington Beach, California, (formerly Zodiac) using off-the-shelf interior components in the four-passenger, and optional pilot layout.
“Safran has no interest in doing a vehicle,” said Thomas Lee, Safran v-p of innovation trends. “This is a co-creation effort with Uber to develop a common look and feel industrial design and passenger experience. Regardless of what the vehicle looks like and how it operates, the passengers would have the same feel getting in the vehicles. If everyone cooperated and agreed to do that, then you get some economies of scale to bring the production rates up and the costs down, so the whole industry benefits.”
“We embarked on this competitive design challenge to imagine from the inside out what is fundamentally correct for the passenger experience for aerial ridesharing,” said John Badalamenti, Uber Elevate head of design for advanced programs. “This mockup embodies everything we want to come out of the passenger experience and operations at a skyport.”
Key features of the mockup include being able to control/limit passenger entry and egress to one side of the vehicle—either left or right, similar to a subway car. The two-passenger wide seating configurations enable quick loading. The highly-functional but spartan cabin is devoid of armrests, passenger video screens, and other distractions, reflecting the relatively short flight durations of five to 20 minutes. “This is designed to inspire the industry,” Badalamenti said. “The amount of detail that was put into this is remarkable, not only in terms of keeping the customer first, but recognizing the constraints of air travel.”
Lee said the time from concept to delivery of the mockup was a brisk six months. “This is a minimum viable cabin.” He said other features could be added to a production model.
The entire air-conditioned cabin is furnished with certified aircraft components including 30G helicopter passenger seats with integral, three- or four-point harnesses. The seats are covered in high-grade aircraft-quality ultra-leather\
that enables passengers to quickly slide in and out of them and are canted outboard ten degrees, as opposed to facing straight ahead, to provide greater personal space, increased head impact distances from the cabin sidewall, and more legroom. Lee said Safran intends to develop a new seat specifically for the eVTOL market and that seat design and certification requirements will be unique to these vehicles and their price points.
Other parts of the interior also reflect the need to keep things simple. “The door is exposed structure, painted black. The high-touch areas are cushioned surfaces, but to do it over the entire door would increase cost and weight,” Badalamenti said. The cabin’s large, swing-out “suicide doors” are reminiscent of a 1960’s model Lincoln Continental luxury automobile, with the oversized rear door opening backwards to provide instant access for the passengers and to their luggage in a small compartment aft the rearmost two seats. The multifunctional luggage area has room for four standard carry-on rollerboard bags, plus backpacks and purses on a shelf above. The shelf can be folded down for oversized items such a golf clubs, guitars, and skis.
The large door window allows ground personnel to monitor passenger entry/egress while attaching to one of two ChargePoint quick-charge battery ports to the rear of the all-electric vehicle. The goal is to charge batteries up to 30 percent within eight minutes, Badalamenti said. “It’s all about battery management. You start the day with a full charge, you drain it down to 60 percent, and then you recharge to 30. You continue that sawtooth model throughout the morning, then charge back up to 100 percent in the afternoon, repeat the sawtooth model, and then charge back up to 100 percent overnight.”
He estimated that a full charge would yield a range of 60 statute miles at speeds up to 150 mph. The cabin mockup is envisioned for a vehicle that is a conventional winged aircraft design powered by a fully-electric system with ten electric motors, dedicated lifting props that retract during cruise flight, and larger wingtip motors and props. Badalamenti said that pure quadcopter and other rotor designs could not attain the speed and range of those that a fixed-wing aircraft could.