Flying cars? Nah. Hyundai says the wave of the future is a flying Uber—and it’s going to build them.
At CES 2020, Hyundai announced an acronym-rich partnership between Uber and its newly-formed Urban Air Mobility (UAM) division to produce Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs) for Uber’s proposed Elevate air-taxi service.
The South Korean automaker revealed a mockup of its PAV, the SA-1, which looks a bit like a cross between a Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey and a photography drone. Like the Osprey, Hyundai’s creation employs VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing)—it takes off vertically, then tilts its rotors to take wing like an airplane. When it reaches its destination, it transitions back to vertical flight for a helicopter-like landing. Like a drone, the S-A1 will be all-electric and will use multiple rotors, quelling noise and reducing the chance that a single point of failure can bring a premature end to your Uber ride.
Hyundai says the SA-1 has a capacity for four passengers and a pilot, the latter becoming redundant once sufficient technology is developed (and approved) to allowed the S-A1 to fly autonomously. It’s designed for trips of up to 60 miles, and will cruise 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the ground at speeds of up to 180 mph. Should everything go pear-shaped, the S-A1 has an emergency parachute deployment system.
All well and good, you might think, but where is this thing going to land? Along with the S-A1 mock-up, Hyundai shared its vision of a traffic-free city that combines urban-air mobility, ground-based autonomous vehicles offering rolling services (coffee shops, medical clinics), and public spaces inventively called Hubs where people can transition between the two. (Syd Mead, where are you when we need you?) Conveniently, all of these can be produced by the Hyundai conglomerate.
If you’re worried about flying in a Hyundai—and if you think back to its first cars, the Pony and the Excel, we can understand your concern—you’ll be happy to know that their UAM division is headed up by Dr. Jaiwon Shin. What do you mean, you don’t know who he is? Dr. Shin is the former associate administrator of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate which, among other things, dealt with research concerning unmanned traffic management and urban air mobility. Bringing him on board is not unlike Hyundai’s decision to hire Albert Biermann to design performance cars or Peter Schreyer to head up design, but with less wood trim and tire smoke.
Oh, and if you were hoping to buy one of these babies for your own garage, we have bad news: For now, Hyundai says, the S-A1 is envisioned exclusively for Uber Elevate.
When will you be able to whip out your phone and catch an airborne Hyundai? Uber Elevate has set a goal of flight demonstrations in 2020 and entry into service in 2023. And your ride might not be a Hyundai—at last year’s CES, Uber Elevate announced a partnership with the Bell Helicopter people to developed the Bell Nexus air taxi. Considering Uber’s struggle for profit, partnering with Hyundai makes more sense; after all, an entry-level Bell 505 Jet Ranger X will set you back about $1.1 million, while Hyundai will sell you a nicely equipped Venue for just over 20 grand. And if this partnership doesn’t work out, that’s fine with us. From a linguistic perspective, we think it would be far cooler if Hyundai built flying cars for Lyft.