Are unmanned flying taxis a far future thing? The Uber view
Use cases & solutions Urban air operations

Are unmanned flying taxis a far future thing? The Uber view

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Are drone taxis part of an undefined era - a farfetched future? Or is this technology closer than we think? We did some investigation and had a deep dive into the research Uber has been doing on this topic.

Flying taxis with trained pilots are the first solid base for a potentially efficient and safe place for on-demand urban autonomous aerial transport. Uber, being the initiator of Annual Uber Elevate Summit with its second edition on 8-9 May in Los Angeles, California, has a clear vision on this matter at hand.

“On-demand aviation, has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes,” Uber says. “We are close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel. Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground.”

Uber continues: “Ultimately, if VTOLs (Vertical Take-off and Landing aircrafts) can serve the on-demand urban transit case well—quiet, fast, clean, efficient, and safe—there is a path to high production volume manufacturing. With at least thousands of a specific model type built per year it will enable VTOLs to achieve a dramatically lower per-vehicle cost. The vision portrayed above is ambitious, but we believe it is achievable in the coming decade if all the key actors in the VTOL ecosystem— regulators, vehicle designers, communities, cities, and network operators—collaborate effectively.”



Critical challenges

Uber believes some of the critical challenges will be the Vehicle Certification Process, battery technology, Air Traffic Control, Cost and Affordability of on-demand aerial transport, aircraft noise, safety and Vertiport/Vertistop infrastructure in cities. But if the potential of a first on-demand aviation network within the next decade is there, how about the potential for unmanned on-demand aviation?

Uber has thought about this question too. “Longer-term solutions for autonomy will likely provide distributed avionics and control architectures that can prove a greater system reliability at a lower cost than current approaches. This longer term solution will also likely embrace moving the pilot out of the vehicle and onto the ground to improve the vehicle productivity and economics. “Bunker pilots” are already used in the military to handle the remote control of unmanned drones and it is expected that in the mature state, a pilot on the ground would be able to monitor and manage a number of VTOLs at the same time. Emerging concepts such as the NASA Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) initiative are certainly a first start towards an airspace system that will enable the autonomous trajectory management systems necessary for the future operating environment.”

More content
Interested in the full report? Read Uber’s elevate whitepaper here Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation (October 27, 2016)
More on NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) initiative here.

Are unmanned flying taxis a far future thing? The Uber view

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