Ridesharing giant Uber has partnered with South Korean car manufacturer Hyundai Motors to bring its ambition of flying taxis to life.
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Hyundai has been announced as the first of multiple manufacturers set to mass-produce flying vehicles for Uber, which it will begin trialling via its Uber Air networks in Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angeles from 2023.
The car manufacturer was one of a handful of automotive companies to have submitted a design for electric flying aircraft.
Hyundai's aircraft has been designed to have a cruise speed of 290km/h and to fly at an altitude of between 1000-2000 feet above ground, and to fly short trips of up to 100km.
The aircraft is designed to take off vertically, and to be piloted. Eventually, it is expected to be autonomous. It will be able to house four passengers, with enough room for a backpack each on board.
Under the partnership with Uber Air, Hyundai will also develop infrastructure to support the take-off and landing of its flying vehicle, Uber announced at the consumer electronics show CES in Las Vegas on Monday.
Hyundai executive vice-president and head of its urban air mobility division, Jaiwon Shin, said the car manufacturer's vision was to transform urban transportation with flying vehicles.
"We expect [the aircraft] to vitalise urban communities and provide more quality time to people. We are confident that Uber Elevate is the right partner to make this innovative product readily available to as many customers as possible," Shin said in a statement.
"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," Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said.
"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."
Allison said the timeline for receiving and trialling the vehicles would be set by Hyundai. He said he did not expect the vehicles to be operational before 2023.
Uber has also partnered with Boeing, Bell, Embraer, Jaunt, Karem Aircrafts, among others, to develop electric aircraft for Uber Air, which Uber expected to be certified and ready to operate sooner.
The company hopes to have full-scale aircraft ready and available for public demonstrations in each of its test cities by 2021.
What Uber Air will look like when operational
Allison said Uber Air would be a small operation, with a couple of dozen vehicles in the network to start with.
Uber Elevate would be operationally similar to what the company is currently running in New York, with UberCopter, a helicopter service essentially shuttling people to and from heliports in downtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport, but offer wider and different routes, he said.
UberCopter was not available worldwide or anywhere other than New York due to the cost, he said, which is where he said he believed Uber Air flying taxis fit in.
"The challenge with helicopters is that they don't scale well. They are super expensive to operate, and there's nothing you can do about it; they are very expensive machines.
"Our vision on price is that it actually is accessible. We think that we can launch Uber Air out of the gate at Uber Black-like pricing - so it's not cheap but it's not succession expensive. It will be at a per seat-mile basis, so you will buy a seat."
As the network grows, the company expects it will bring the price down to UberX pricing on a per seat-mile basis.
"Middle-income people will be able to ride Uber Air on a regular basis all over the world."
Uber does not believe any regulatory changes or laws needed to happen for Uber Elevate in its test markets of Melbourne, Los Angeles or Dallas, Allison said.
"I think it's a really big deal that a big global automotive manufacturer is jumping into this field with both feet, it'll be remarkable to watch what they build over the next few years."
Test flights in all three cities will begin next year and plans to commercialise operations will commence from 2023.
Uber wants to open up urban air mobility and clear congestion on the roads. Long term, the transportation giant wants to transport tens of thousands of people across cities for the same price as an UberX trip over the same distance.