Your Next Uber Ride May Not Involve A Car...
Instead, the experience will be much more efficient.
Imagine that you’re walking down the street. You open the Uber app to request a ride to a nearby city. Suddenly, you get a notification saying, “Your Uber is ready. Please ascend to the top of the nearest Skyport”.
If I were to receive this message on my phone today, I would be highly skeptical about heading to the top of a building to be seated in an Uber vehicle. How would that even be possible with today’s transportation? Maybe we could just pray that we can jump across buildings to get to the final destination. Or, we could just simply plunge down onto the bustling street below.
Fun right? Well, doing all that would be highly ineffective and won’t get me to my destination. What is this so-called “Skyport” and what is Uber developing to go on top of buildings? How will going on top of some building get me closer to my destination?
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There’s more to it than just “going on top of a building”. A whole lot more. UberAIR is here to save the day and get you back home quicker than ever. Sounds sketchy? I think not.
How will this process work?
Good question. To answer this, let’s have your imagination and muse kick into play. Now imagine that you are a massive Lakers fan. You are very eager to see the Lakers play at their home ground in Los Angeles. So, you board the early morning United Airlines flight from Boston Logan International Airport to LAX in Los Angeles. Once you land, you exit the airport and now need to get to the Staples Center, which is quite far from LAX. Normally, you would have to take a taxi/UberX for the whole route to the stadium. With UberAIR available on this journey, you don’t have to take the lengthy and tedious car route.
First, you will have to book a normal Uber to get to the Skyport, where the UberAIR vehicle will be. This first trip doesn’t take much time compared to other trips, and eventually, you arrive at the Skyport. You enter the Skyport, which turns out to be more than just a place to get to board the UberAIR vehicle. You ascend to the top after scanning your electronic pass from the Uber app and you wait for a couple of minutes for the vehicle to arrive. In no time at all, the UberAIR vehicle that will get you to your destination is ready for boarding.
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Seamlessly, you and a few other people heading to the same destination as you are guided by a person in an orange vest to the vehicle for this journey. After settling into your seat, the pilot of the aircraft makes a quick announcement about the trip over the P.A system. The doors automatically close and in just a few seconds, you’re off the ground.
The vehicle smoothly glides into a cruise at around 2,000 ft after taking off from the Skyport. Around 25 minutes later, after enjoying the relaxing and comforting cruise, the vehicle slowly descends towards the destination Skyport. In this case, that’s the Skyport next to the Staples Center.
Landing is a breeze, taking around the same amount of time as it took to take off from the LAX Skyport. After the vehicle quickly taxis to the gate, the doors swiftly open and you walk out refreshed. You head down the elevator and enjoy some delicious snacks from a small cafe in the Skyport. You soon exit the Skyport and enjoy your short yet pleasant walk to the Staples Center, with the tickets proudly held in your hands.
Now let’s take a peek at the route of that journey.
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You were able to go between LAX and the Staples Center in less than one hour! Now shift your attention towards the UberX route. That long stretch would take more than an hour, leaving you exhausted and somewhat uncomfortable. With UberAIR, traveling just gets so much more efficient compared to our daily congested travels.
What are the vehicles going to be like?
Helicopters. Yes, you heard me correctly. However, I advisedly call them helicopters as they are actually special versions of helicopters with enhanced capabilities. Numerous aircraft concepts for UberAIR are in the works as Uber decidedly partnered up with several aircraft manufacturers in order to transform these concepts into a reality. Uber refers to the helicopters as eVTOLs, and as a result of that, we’re not going to call them helicopters anymore. They’re similar, but not completely helicopters.
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eVTOL stands for “Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing” and they are the heroes of UberAIR. These eVTOLs are going to use a method called “Direct Electric Propulsion” (DEP), and this method drastically separates eVTOLs from normal helicopters. DEP in one word: redundancy. DEP uses multiple rotors, batteries, motors, and electronics to allow for a safer aircraft enhanced for urban use. Uber is hoping to phase-in autonomy into their eVTOLs to maximize efficiency.
eVTOLs will have to pass three specific barriers: safety, noise, and emissions.
It’s known and proven that air travel is much safer than road travel in multiple aspects. However, at the moment, air-taxis are two times as volatile and dangerous as normal road taxis. Also, the majority of aerial accidents are largely due to pilot error and inexperience. Uber has developed a couple of solutions to overcome the safety barrier.
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First off, eVTOLs will include an increased amount of fly-by-wire instruments and pilot aids. These pilot aids will eventually evolve into full autonomy. These improved aids will help guide pilots to destinations safely and soundly.
DEP is also a major factor in helping the eVTOLs overcome the safety barrier. Pilots in eVTOLs are going to be somewhat unnecessary, mainly watching over the vehicle along with visual avoidance. Normally when piloting a helicopter, the pilot directly maneuvers the aircraft which is called “direct mechanical overload”. More force is put on some motors and components compared to other ones. With DEP, the amount of direct mechanical overload is significantly reduced, thus preventing rotor and mechanical failures. DEPs will also include backup systems in case of an emergency failure with the main motors. DEP will become imperative when the eVTOLs transform to full autonomy.
Image credit: “Uber Elevate | Vision.” Uber, 2010, www.uber.com/us/en/elevate/vision/. Accessed Nov. 2020.
This image depicts a case where the evTOLs experience a harsh sideswipe, pushing the left down. As depicted, the rotor highlighted in blue will attempt to resist the tilt. DEP will divert additional power to the highlighted rotor to further stabilize the eVTOL.
Most propeller-powered vehicles are relatively noisy and disruptive. You’ve probably heard the sound of a passing helicopter before. From that experience, you might think that Uber modifying a helicopter for ride-sharing seems like it will be noisy as well.
However, Uber has plans to overcome this barrier. They’re aiming to reduce the noise of the vehicles down to 67 decibels at an altitude of 250 feet. That’s around half the noise that a medium-sized truck on a highway makes.
A normal helicopter has one propeller. Increasing the number of propellers while decreasing the diameter of each will inevitably decrease the amount of noise created by the eVTOL. Also, DEP comes into play here. DEP combined with autonomy will remove the need for a tail rotor. Along with that, the complexity of mechanical linkages in the vehicles is reduced to further reduce the amount of noise.
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Uber gives an example of this increased number of motors in their whitepaper, comparing a single large rotor to 26 smaller rotors. They state, “In this case 1.5 times the tip speed can be as much as 8 to 12 times the noise energy. Because the 26 rotors are turning at nearly the same speed, the noise is a simple power sum of their individual noises, rather than being perceived as louder due to being discrete noise elements.”
The fact that DEP removes the need for normal combustion engines is a savior in noise reduction. These electric motors do not create as much noise as conventional helicopters. The noise from the electric motors is almost inaudible, perfect for this situation. DEP’s flexibility with the eVTOLs will allow designers to further reduce the noise generated.
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As mentioned earlier, the eVTOLs are fully electric. Their carbon output is almost net-zero. Electric modes of transport are becoming increasingly feasible and popular over the years. This makes sure that Uber Elevate will be able to operate in the most environmentally-friendly methods.
How about the Skyports?
The Skyports are going to be vast places with numerous amenities. The Skyports are going to be more than just places for the eVTOLs to take off and land. Uber has gathered multiple Skyport concepts in partnership with other companies.
Image credit: Lekach, Sasha. “Here’s What Uber’s Flying Taxis and Skyports Could Look Like.” Mashable, 12 June 2019, mashable.com/article/uber-air-flying-taxis/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2020.
At a basic level, the Skyports would include amenities that you’d normally see in an airport. Parking garages, bus drop-off and pickup, lounges, open-areas, and restaurants are just a few of the planned amenities. However, there are certain things that separate the Skyports from massive airports. First, the Skyports will be more compact. This is vital because the majority of UberAIR’s operations will take place in urban areas. Secondly, Skyports will be more environmentally friendly through effective stewarding. Some Skyports may see around 240 aircraft an hour. This calls for faster operations than airport operations. Lastly, Uber’s Skyports will be integrating with more technologies. There will be areas for integrating with JUMP, Uber’s bike and electric scooter sharing platform. Uber has been recently developing self-driving vehicles which would be usable in these Skyports.
Skyports will allow for more innovation to be possible in infrastructure development and other fields. Keeping that in mind, Uber has also partnered up with Pickard Chilton to create an Uber Megaport. These will have more helipads and will be much taller to accommodate for the relatively small base area. But, this will result in an increased number of operations. The Megaport will include more integrations and amenities than a normal Skyport due to it’s increased size.
Image credit: “Uber Sky Tower | Pickard Chilton.” Pickardchilton.com, 2018, www.pickardchilton.com/work/uber-sky-tower. Accessed 16 Dec. 2020.
In order to improve consistency and sustainability, Uber has developed autonomous tow vehicles. They will be mainly similar to a normal airport’s tow vehicles, but will be electric and autonomous to reduce associated hardships. These vehicles will be developed with similar self-driving car systems, such as GPS and LiDAR.
Image credit: “Uber.” Uber, 2020, www.uber.com/us/en/elevate/skyports/.
Uber Elevate. It’s a massive leap for smart cities. Even though this seems like the pinnacle of ridesharing, it isn’t. Various aspects of this concept can be used to our advantages. From the emergence of DEP to the immersive Skyports, Uber Elevate involves all types of technology. Instead of being perceived as the peak of ridesharing, it should be seen as a gateway to new innovations.
- Uber Elevate aims to create a more efficient ridesharing experience.
- This involves eVTOLs which will pass safety, noise, and emission barriers.
- Skyports will be well-equipped, futuristic, and will include numerous amenities.
- Uber plans to integrate other technologies with this concept (e.g, self-driving taxis).
- This concept could pave the way for new innovative discoveries.