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Uber reveals its latest ‘flying car’ prototype for aerial taxi service

The Verge logoThe Verge 08/05/2018 Andrew J. Hawkins
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Watch: Uber unveils plan for flying cars [CNBC] 

Uber is showing off its latest “flying car” concept at its second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles. And, as you can see, it looks more like a drone than a helicopter.

a airplane that is sitting on a bench © Provided by The Verge The aircraft, which the company hopes to use to launch as an aerial taxi service by 2023, is a mashup of a plane and a helicopter. Instead of a tiltrotor, this design has four stacked rotors along the spine to give lift, which then stow away during landing. There is also a fifth rotor on the tail to allow forward propulsion. If one rotor fails, the others will continue to operate for a safe landing. 

“Stacked co-rotating rotors or propellers have two rotor systems placed on top of each other rotating in the same direction,” Uber says. “Initial experimentation of this concept has revealed the potential for significantly quieter performance than traditional paired rotors and improved overall performance.”

a close up of a toy airplane © Provided by The Verge These aircraft will be electrically powered, and Uber says they’ll fly at an elevation of 1,000 to 2,000 feet. The company envisions thousands of its flying taxis shuttling passengers between rooftop “skyports” and landing sites in cities, each of which will be equipped to handle 200 takeoffs and landings every hour. The aircraft will be piloted by humans at first, but eventually will fly autonomously.

The prototype serves as an eye-catching centerpiece for the company’s two-day Elevate conference, which brings together representatives from the aviation industry, real estate, infrastructure, and government regulators. This year, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will also be making an appearance.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) © AP (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Uber first introduced its plan to bring ride-sharing to the skies in 2016, but the project still faces significant hurdles. The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling passengers from rooftop to rooftop — electric, autonomous, with the ability to take off and land vertically (also known as eVTOL, pronounced ee-vee-tol) — don’t really exist yet, nor does the infrastructure to support such a vehicle. Experts suggest that engineering and regulatory hindrances may prevent flying cars from ever taking off in a meaningful way.

That’s not to say flying cars aren’t having a moment: at least 19 companies are developing flying-car plans. These include legacy manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, and small startups like Kitty Hawk, owned by Google founder Larry Page. Meanwhile, Uber has made significant strides in partnering with a handful of aircraft manufacturers, real estate firms, and regulators to better its chances of developing a fully functional, on-demand flying taxi service.

Related: The history of taxis [GES] 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: Taxis wait on a rank in Westminster on June 2, 2014 in London, England. The controversial mobile application 'Uber', which allows users to hail private-hire cars from any location, is opposed by established taxi drivers and currently serves more than 100 cities in 37 countries. London's black cabs are seeking a High Court ruling on the claim that the Uber software is breaking the law by using an app as a taxi meter to determine rates. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images) The history of taxis: From horse-drawn to Uber

Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage these low-flying, possibly autonomous aircraft. Expect more news to break this week as the conference kicks off.

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