Uber’s UAS Taxi Concept
Uber Understands & Is Prepared For FAA’s Regulatory Challenges
Uber plans to use a VTOL aircraft in intracity taxi operations and has published an incredibly comprehensive study that lays out the map from vision to realization by 2028. The Uber proposal is notable for its realistic, practical game plan, its ideas for using aerial vehicles to diminish the ground traffic density have awesome potential.
“What’s past is prologue”— William Shakespeare’s character Antonio said, in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I, could have been foreshadowing the history of aviation (a phrase which is etched on a statue in front of the National Archives, close to the FAA Headquarters).
No, the reference is not back to the Jetsons futuristic transportation vehicle,
but rather to the NASA STOL and VTOL studies as well as the author’s Master’s Thesis, which assessed the technical and economic feasibility of these aircraft in these short markets. An even more practical example of the STOL history is Ransome Airlines’ creation of a low altitude flight pattern, be low the commercial airlines’ congested airspace to operate its STOL DH-7 relying on RNAV for its air traffic. This AT strategy did attain greater flight time reduction, but that efficiency was not able to attract demand adequate to justify a fare premium.
With the UAS “revolution,” particularly the “unmanned” aspect, NASA initiated a number of research efforts to test the intra- and inter- city use of these vehicles. The air traffic control aspects of the unmanned air taxis may constitute the critical task in the Uber project and the aviation research organization at Ames has explored congestion management at low altitudes. The extent of the federal agency’s interest is shown by a paper which posits what a First Adopter Community like the Silicon Valley, would do in response to this innovation. There is a lot of material for the folks at Uber.
To further help, Airbus started project “Vahana” (Sanskrit: वाहन, literally “that which carries, that which pulls”) to build the aircraft which Uber desires. “Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there,“ was the quote of Airbus project executive Rodin Lyasoff.
The French company forecasts “flying cars” demand in the millions of vehicles. Unlike the sale of thousands of commercial aircraft which bear the massive development cost, this projected sale number will reduce development burden on the units to be sold. Lyasoff’s Vahana’s timeline to production is in as few as 10 years. His primary concern about the UATaxi is to design and implement a UTM or “sense and avoid” technology that the regulators and consumers would demand.
The entrepreneurs, who introduced the drone technology, were not only disrupters of technology but their approach to safety regulation was disruptive, too. Not so with Uber! It has prepared a detailed study which methodically lays out all the technical tasks which must be addressed and includes in that menu some major challenges:
Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Vehicles
- Establishing a Safety Target
- Improving VTOL Safety
- Distributed Electric Propulsion
- A Quantitative Goal For VTOL
- Noise Objective for the Vehicles
- Long-term Annoyance
- Short-term Annoyance
- Site-level Analysis and Tailoring
- Vehicle Design
- Cruise versus Hover Efficiency
- Speed and Range
- Battery Requirements
- Accelerating the Certification Timetable
- Operator Certification
- Pilot Training
Inrastrucutre and Operations
- City Infrastructure
- Vertiport and Vertistop Development
- Vertiport and Vertistop Designs
- Ridesharing Infrastructure for VTOLs
- Vertiport and Vertistop Placement
- Airports and Vehicle Maintenance Hubs
- Assumptions 59 Model
- Analysis and Discussion
- Demand Aggregation and Multi-Modal Benefits
- Underserved Routes 62 Time Savings
- Air Traffic
- High Volume Voiceless Air Traffic Control Interactions
- UTM-like Management Extended Above 500 Feet Altitudes
- Seamless Integration with Airports and Terminal Areas
- Building Infrastructure Toward Autonomy
- Trip Reliability
- Gusty Winds
- Embracing Public Perspectives
The mere fact that Uber understands the FAA’s regulatory challenges and is prepared to respond to that long set of criteria indicates a preparedness that is likely to succeed. Coming to the regulator with such a comprehensive comprehension of the certification requirements is likely to generate a cooperative response from the governmental task master. Truly an impressive first step.
The prospects for this new technology to relieve intracity ground congestion and to improve the convenience of commuting is perhaps one of this era’s greatest technological advances.
Much enthusiasm has been expressed for the autonomous automobile and improved safety. Cars can only be driven in two dimensions; so the addition of these advanced vehicles will not diminish and could exacerbate the traffic on the roads. The Uber model, if it successfully meets its technology requirements, will expand the flow of people movement into a third dimension. Very exciting, indeed!!!