At the Consumer Electronics Show Hyundai, Uber and Bell revealed model prototypes of their own electric air taxi. Similar to a helicopter they have the ability to engage electric vertical takeoff and landing or “eVTOL”
Both Hyundai and Bells eVTOL air taxi possess a maximum range of 60 km an hour However Hyundais SE-1 craft is faster by 30 mph while Bells Nexus can fit one more person (5)
Hyundais prototype air taxi called ‘SA-1’ will carry 4 passengers. It has a maximum cruise speed of 180mph (290km/hr), and a cruising altitude of between 1,000-2,000 feet (300 – 600m) high with a total range of 60 kilometres per charge.
Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate was quoted saying
“Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience of manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale,”
“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.”
In the SA-1 multiple rotors and propellers are placed around the air-frame to reduce the amount of noise pollution – a significant hurdle to the introduction of air-taxis. Between propeller/fan powered vertical take off and landing the aircraft can transition in to a horizontal wing guided lift.
Hyundai and Uber intend to hire pilots at first but will try to automate as they go along.
In this partnership Hyundai will handle the hardware – production and deployment of the air vehicle, while Uber will handle the software including support for managing the airspace, help connecting the customer to ground transportation, and designing a user interface for the aerial ride share network. They are both co-operating to brainstorm a framework for the required infrastructure.
“Our vision of Urban Air Mobility will transform the concept of urban transportation,” said Jaiwon Shin, Executive Vice President and Head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Division.
At the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas Bell revealed their Nexus 4EX electric air taxi. Like the SA-1 it can travel a total of 60km in one charge. However it is 30 mph slower and carries five people instead of 4. There is clearly situational benefits to using either craft at least so far as what we know.
Since their last prototype, the company has reduced the number of fans from 6 to 4 “the vehicle becomes cleaner, aerodynamically,” says Scott Drennan, vice president of innovation at Bell. The new design allows them to shave some weight off, too, so it can cruise more efficiently.
Back in 2018 Rolls-Royce tested their own eVTOL air taxi. At 250 mph it traveled much faster than the SA-1 or Nexus. Their trial was primarily meant to demonstrate their new propulsion system so the company does not necessarily intend to enter the business of air taxis right now, nor is the vehicle “electric” in the traditional sense – it gets the electricity from a gas turbine which also means that it will be able to rely on traditional airport fuel.
The United States Force recently announced their intent to accelerate the maturity of eVTOL aircraft. Other companies claim to be hard at work on building their own eVTOL including Jump AERO who is developing one for medical services and Elroy Air who has chosen to focus on cargo and transportation.
The featured image is concept art from the EmbraerX eVTOL.