ADS Head of Innovation and Engineering Sameer Savani was recently part of a DIT-led UK ‘mission’ to the Uber Elevate Summit in Washington DC, with 25 other UK organisations. For our latest blog, he discusses the event and what he learnt:
While the event was essentially a promotion of Uber’s model for Urban Air Mobility (UAM), it raised several points that need to be considered by any similar developments around the world, including here in the UK. Aside from the commonly discussed technology and regulatory challenges (well versed by others), the top three takeaways for me personally were…
- An integrator that can operate at scale, join up and drive collaboration between the diverse elements of the overall UAM system to create an end-to-end service is vital
- Having the right quality and quantity of data across the UAM system is essential in the overall design of a system of systems that delivers ‘on-ground’ levels convenience with ‘in-air’ levels of safety, and integrates with other modes of mobility
- Public acceptance is crucial if UAM is to be viable at any scale, in any geography
Below is a summary of my takeaways from the event, having digested my notes and experiences for about a week. But first, some introductory points for those not familiar with Uber Elevate:
What is Uber Elevate?
Operating in 83 countries and over 855 cities worldwide, many will be familiar with Uber the ridesharing and food delivery app that also has e-bike and e-scooter sharing schemes.
Uber Elevate is Uber’s aerial division, and the company’s entry into the Urban Air Mobility domain, where it aims to build the future of aerial ridesharing – the “product” will be Uber Air. In short, Uber is aiming to bring together a number of “partners” from air vehicle developers to infrastructure designers to create an ecosystem within which its specific business model for UAM can scale.
Where are they planning to roll out?
Melbourne was announced at the Summit as the latest city to partner with Uber, joining Dallas and Los Angeles in becoming the first cities to offer Uber Air flights.
When will they start to offer services?
Uber’s goal of beginning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023, when they plan to give riders the option of an affordable shared flight. Uber Elevate was announced three years ago, but today the ride-hailing service is expanding into helicopter service, called Uber Copter, operated by HeliFlite. This service will start on 9 July 2019 in New York City, which can be booked through Uber’s app, to take passengers between Lower Manhattan and Kennedy International Airport
Who are their vehicle partners so far?
While initial Uber Air operations will begin with helicopter services, the business model only works long term and at scale with eVTOL aircraft, which will eventually replace conventional helicopters. Jaunt Air Mobility has been named at the Summit as a new eVTOL partner for Uber Air, joining Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell, EmbraerX, Karem Aircraft and Pipistrel Vertical Solutions. Looking at the aircraft offered by these six partners, it is clear that Uber are experimenting with a wide range of design types to learn about what will best work for UAM.
The Summit itself
The Summit was very much an ‘advert’ for the Uber business and operating model, something which it had previously outlined with the publication of its landmark White Paper in 2016. The conference itself added more insight about the way the service would operate and scale up, but little detail was provided throughout about the “how”.
Whether you believe Uber’s ambitious timescales are realistic, it is undeniable that Uber’s aggressive and overt pursuit of their vision is driving the global UAM agenda forward faster than it would have moved without Uber’s influence.
While Uber were cognisant of all the traditional challenges and barriers – technological, societal, regulatory, market – the conference focused on areas where Uber feels it has an advantage (operating and business model, convenience…).