At the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January, Uber and Hyundai Motors together unveiled their all-electric air taxi project, S-A1, that would shape the future’s public transportation system. While modern science has promised the public “flying vehicles” for more than a century, this innovation remains yet to be materialized. By tackling this long-standing challenge, the Uber-Hyundai joint force seeks to become pioneers of the “aerial ride-share network” (NYTimes).
Hyundai proudly displayed its small-scale prototype with motors and a virtual reality experience of what a typical ride would consist of. A non-functioning full scale model was on display as well (NYTimes). Jaiwon Shin, long-time NASA administrator and newly appointed head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility division, later announced that humanity is “looking at the dawn of a new era that opens the skies above our cities.” With his aircraft expertise, Shin has pointed toward an optimistic future for air taxi and its systematization.
S-A1 revealed its technical specs to those at the electronics show as well. Hyundai stated that the current model is designed to cruise 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600 meters) above the ground at 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) for trips up to 60 miles (95 kilometers). What’s more, the vehicle is designed to be autonomous— meaning that it will be operating automatically, not manually.
The air vehicle is to be officially launched for commercial use as soon as 2023 (CNN). Uber comes significantly into play in the post-manufacturing steps of the grand project, from marketing the service on the famous Uber app by the proposed date. Within 5 years, consumers would be able to fly “on demand” from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport, a route commonly taken via train or taxi.
However, there is no doubt that challenges now await the two companies. Building a quiet, safe, and economically viable air vehicle means overcoming various technological hurdles (NYTimes): while battery technology is limited, the cost of operation and maintenance need to be capped in order for S-A1 rides to cost around the same thresholds as a regular Uber cab.
Once the cost-to-price issue is settled, air taxis may not only be a long-time dream come true but also quick and efficient ways to commute through the congested on-ground roads.