San Francisco, California, USA
Uber Elevate Background
Uber Elevate is the name of Uber’s internal team and initiative focused on launching their Uber Air product for the public. On Oct. 27, 2016, Uber published a white paper titled, "Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation". Of note, Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director, American Helicopter Society International (now the Vertical Flight Society) was a Contributor and Reviewer (page 9) on the 2016 Uber white paper. Uber's aerial riding sharing has also been called, "The future of aerial ridesharing," "On demand aviation" or "An aerial ridesharing transportation ecosystem." The Elevate initiative includes airspace management, battery development, infrastructure to support a distributed network of Skyports, operations, partnerships, and vehicle design.
Ushering in the era of urban aviation for everyone, everywhere can’t be achieved by a single organization—it requires collaboration and open dialogue. The annual Uber Elevate Summit (the first summit took place in 2017) convenes a global community of builders, investors, policymakers, and government officials all working toward making the vision of urban aerial ridesharing a reality.
Uber's goal is to have demonstrator flights beginning in 2020 with Uber’s target date of 2023 to begin commercial operations in three test cities (Los Angeles, California, USA; Dallas, Texas, USA; Melbourne, Australia) of electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft available for passenger transportation by using an app to schedule a flight. Uber is working closely with federal and local policymakers to develop an aerial aircraft that’s safe, quiet, environmentally conscious, and that extends the reach of existing transportation options. One reason, out of many very good reasons, why Uber is a strong proponent of eVTOL aircraft is due to no emissions.
Uber says it plans to offer the option of shared eVTOL aircraft for one leg of their journey, then connecting to ground transportation if needed. The first Uber aircraft will be piloted with the ultimate future goal of having all eVTOL aircraft to fly autonomously. Uber is also working to have multiple Skyports in cities they are servicing which are capable of handling up to 1,000 landings per hour.
Uber is also working on a suite of software called Elevate Cloud Services (ECS) to manage dense operations of unmanned, low altitude air traffic. The goal is to have each eVTOL aircraft fly safely in airspace which now includes small personal and commercial drones, other eVTOL aircraft, general aviation and commercial airplanes, jets and helicopters, and be able to avoid them all. In addition, this software and detection capability will also allow Uber aircraft to avoid established high-rise buildings, power-lines, radio/cell transmission towers, airports, airport corridors, and to be able to detect and fly around any unreported structures, such as construction cranes or any other newly made structure that have not yet been reported to aviation databases.
We have convened leaders across industry and government—vehicle designers, manufacturers, investors, operators, infrastructure providers, policymakers, and regulators—to build this future of urban aviation and begin testing in cities as early as 2020.
Uber is taking a page out of NASA’s [play] book to close the gaps in commercial air vehicle design by sharing their design approaches and technologies from the beginning — engaging all players in this space including partners working towards flight demonstrator prototypes. Uber believes this collaborative approach is an important step in driving down potential risks in vehicle design and will help solve critical problems in creating the world’s first urban aviation rideshare network.
—Quote from Uber. First paragraph from Uber Air's website, 2nd paragraph from a Uber Elevate press release.
Electric Common Reference Model (eCRM)
A unique plan by Uber Elevate has been in the development and conceptualization of electric Common Reference Models (eCRM) by Uber’s Vehicle Engineering team to help aircraft manufactures design aircraft that will conform to the Uber Elevate vehicle requirements. Uber does not intend to build any aircraft.
The first eCRMs were revealed at Uber's 2017 Summit. The eCRMs are to help aerospace manufacturers design new classes of aircraft which have never been made before and help manufactures to focus on creating aircraft that meet all Uber specifications for urban air mobility; adding ride sharing and ultra-low noise capability into its core design; network communications to receive precise flight plans, report its position, avoid all other flying aircraft, avoid all ground obstacles; fly in Class B airspace; adhere to all applicable safety regulations, city regulations, national government air space regulations; ability to taxi without aid of propellers and to finally validate that these aircraft will work in the real world.
In the photos below, one can notice the Uber standard of incorporating high wings which will provide some shade and/or light rain protection as passengers board. While boarding or deplaning, all propellers are stopped and the corotating propellers are parallel with the booms and fuselage, so passengers and crew will not have to duck their heads to miss them. Tiltrotors will be in the up position also, while passengers are entering or exiting the aircraft for safety reasons. The entry and exit doors are on one side of the aircraft only, to reduce confusion for passengers and the ground crew.
Other requirements for Uber's eVTOL aircraft include 150 mph (241 km/h) cruise speed, 60 mile (96 km) range, a three hour sprint of 25 mile (40 km) trips, and capacity for one pilot and four riders. As of September 2019, there are four eCRM models: eCRM-001, eCRM-002, eCRM-003, and eCRM-004. Uber has stated that only all electric aircraft are the best solution for urban air mobility and all Common Reference Models will be all electric and have vertical and takeoff and landing capabilities.
Uber’s eCRM-004 has four sets of stacked co-rotating propellers for vertical flight located on the tops of booms and on the rear of the fuselage and has one wing for forward flight. There are two propellers for forward flight and are also tiltrotors. These tiltrotors look similar to the tiltrotors on the Bell V-280 Valor military turbine-powered VTOL aircraft, where the rotors and driveshafts only tilt and the engines remain horizontally stationary. Seating is for one pilot and four passengers. The side windows are larger than that of a jet aircraft, for a better passenger flying experience but the side windows are not as large as eCRM-001, -002 and -003. There is no window in the ceiling.
The first eCRMs are representative of the broadest sets of eVTOL configurations with the potential to meet Uber’s requirements: designs that use separate propulsion systems for lift and cruise and those that articulate—tilting wings, rotors or ducts—to transition between vertical and forward flight.
They are not entirely generic and feature technologies Uber intends to investigate with its partners. These include the stacked corotating rotor—a lift rotor with dual propellers that rotate in the same direction. This avoids the wake interference problem that makes contrarotating rotors loud, says Moore.
These tools are dedicated to the design of the partners’ vehicles, which cannot be shown, and the eCRMs are a way to showcase the results without giving away proprietary designs. This is part of Uber’s strategy to share information as widely as possible to advance the art of eVTOL design across industry.
—From Uber Advances eVTOL Design With Common Reference Concepts, Aviation Week, May 8, 2018
As stated before, Uber does not intend to build any aircraft; however, Uber will:
- Provide test models for new analysis tools that allow Uber Elevate to share tools with specific concept model examples that prove out the tool functionality and to prove the impact of new technologies that improve eVTOL capabilities.
- Provide Uber Elevate partners design integration examples for addressing vehicle capability gaps, including close proximity noise, precise crosswind handling, transition control and sizing energy/power integrations.
- Enable NASA and academia engagement to encourage research through open models to facilitate improved tools with validation datasets.
- Build an understanding of eVTOL concept approaches and strengths and weaknesses relating to DEP technology application.
- Support urban aviation’s long term market success by building up the community, including publishing content to validate market feasibility.
Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP)
Uber is a big proponent of eVTOLs because of the massive benefits using Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) for aircraft. Distributed Electric Propulsion simply means that multiple electric engines are distributed along, above, below, within and/or around the wings and/or the fuselage and are powered by electricity. Using DEP can achieve better performance from the aircraft including improving the flying capability in normal and bad weather conditions (each engine can be running at difference speeds to achieve maximum control in windy conditions), increases safety, increases reliability, minimizes noise, increases ride quality, is more fuel efficient (or uses less energy), electric engines/propellers are light weight and compact, is scalable to almost any size, refuels with renewable energy, greatly reduces green house gases and what most of us know, no emissions.
In addition, a manufacturer using DEP provides new degrees of freedom for aircraft design, reduces the aircraft's complexity, reduces manufacturing costs, reduces total maintenance costs for the customer, reduces drag, improves aircraft efficiency and performance, increases handling through novel control approaches, has a high bypass ratio, increases redundancy, increases robustness, maximizes its hover power, uses no fossil fuels, and can be made to fly autonomously. (Please note, there is a multitude of air flow advantages found when using DEP for aircraft and we are not listing all of the advantages using DEP on aircraft here.) According to Uber, DEP is a breakthrough technology pioneered by Mark Moore during his 32 years at NASA and Moore is now the Director of Vehicle Engineering at Uber Air.
“Whatever size those electric motors are … you get high efficiency, high reliability and incredible compactness,” he said. “Whether it’s at one horsepower, 10 horsepower, 100 horsepower or 1,000 horsepower, those characteristics stay true. It doesn’t care how big or small the motors are.” That’s not the case for existing internal combustion or turbine engines.
Size flexibility allows designers to position propellers in places on the aircraft not possible before, with the goal of creating a more agile, capable aircraft. Because they’re electric, the motors can be controlled digitally to work in close harmony with other aircraft systems. Adding autonomous control would make new capabilities possible.
“Distributed electric propulsion lets us do things that we’ve wanted to do for 50 years,” Moore said in an interview before his talk.
—From the article: Distributed Electric Propulsion May Usher in a New Era of Flight, SciTechDaily, Jul. 15, 2015
Uber has stated they have made a first in the aerospace industry by requiring their new aircraft designs to have ultra-low noise specifications built in as a key feature. They are accomplishing this goal using DEP and with a very specific aircraft design element by specifying co-rotating propellers for VTOL flight. Co-rotating propellers means a set of two propellers are stacked one on top of the other, with both propellers turning in the same direction. There are two main reasons why co-rotating propellers are extremely important for aircraft. First, it reduces noise and second, it increases the efficiency of the propellers.
(Side Note: The opposite of co-rotating propellers is contra-rotating propellers or counter-rotating propellers, which have been seen on several airplane designs. Contra-rotating propellers are where two propellers are arranged one behind the other and each propeller rotates in the opposite direction. It should be noted there are advantages and disadvantages to contra-rotating propellers on airplanes. Advantages include the canceling out of torque and adding efficiency to the propellers. However, several disadvantages of contra-rotating propellers include greater noise which limits its commercial applications, and added mechanical complexity, creating more weight for the aircraft which ultimately reduces the performance of the airplane.)
Of note, electric powered propellers don’t need a warm-up or shut-down period like helicopters or jets, and don't have complicated procedures that airliners have when taxing to or leaving a jetway. eVTOls don’t need any significant taxiing that other aircraft need, allowing take-offs after boarding to take place more rapidly and vice versa. Jetways are not needed for eVTOL aircraft. In fact, jetways can actually pose hazards to any aircraft if not fully retracted before departure and can damage a jetliner. While it is rare, if a jetway is not properly maintained each year, a mechanical failure occurs, or if the jetway has defective parts — jetways have been known to collapse.
Battery technology is advancing rapidly as each year passes, which is a big plus to making future eVTOL aircraft to have equal to and eventually, it is foreseen, to have a better range than its gas-powered counterparts. As newer battery technology is developed, eVTOL aircraft will fly longer in the air, fly further distances and will allow an increased payload weight. In addition, the technology has been created to charge Uber's eVTOL aircraft as quickly as possible during peak times of travel to keep downtime of these electric aircraft to a minimum.
One has to only look at the newly created technology of solid-state batteries by universities and corporations around the world, to see the overwhelming benefits of batteries powering electric vehicles. Scientists predict that battery energy storage (called energy density), in the near future, will have enough energy to power electric cars to easily double the range of current internal combustion engine (ICE) ground vehicles, and one can only hope the same results will be seen for eVTOL aircraft.
Uber has another specification for the manufacturers of eVTOL aircraft, called repeatability. The vehicle must be able to operate continuously for at least three hours while flying typical 25 mile (40 km) missions. Uber defines continuous operations as needing to charge around 5-7 minutes between flights, the time it takes to unload and load passengers.
The specification of repeatability was made to make sure aircraft manufacturers will design eVTOL aircraft that are capable of making multiple trips during the peak three hours in the morning and evening, when people are going to and from work. Each time the aircraft lands to load and offload passengers, aircraft batteries need to be charged as much as possible, to have enough charge for the next flight and also have enough reserve battery power if a flight plan change occurs mid-flight due to an alternate landing location being required or for an emergency landing. Uber believes that repeatability will be key to maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the ridesharing process.
An architectural contest was held for Uber's 2018 Summit with six different architectural firms to design Skyports. Pickard Chilton and Arup, Humphreys and Partners Architects, BOKA Powell, Corgan, Gannett Flemming and Beck. The Skyports need to handle 1,000 flights per hour (4,000 passengers per hour), have a three-acre footprint, meet noise and environmental regulations, have a minimal impact on surrounding communities and provide the ability to re-charge the aircraft. Uber has also noted that door-to-door eVTOL aerial ridesharing is not likely take place, as it would require pre-designated vertipads to operate, as well as overcoming local regulations, space constraints and many other possible factors.
The first cities planned to offer Uber Air Flights is Dallas (Texas, USA), Los Angeles (California, USA) and Melbourne (Victoria, Australia). On Aug. 30, 2019, Uber announced a short-list of potential international countries (outside of the USA) where a Uber Air City could take place as early as five years from now. Due to Uber having extensive data about traffic and mobility patterns, they plan to use this data to help plan with cities and others, as to where the Skyports should be placed in each urban area. For creating a network of Skyports for takeoffs and landings in urban areas, Uber is promoting the repurposing decks of parking garages, using existing helipads, tops of buildings and even using unused land surrounding highway interchanges. Uber proposes that aerial ridesharing will expand access to public transit and help governments with future transportation planning and investments.
As of June 2019, Uber has announced that it is working with six major aircraft manufactures that are developing eVTOL aircraft specifically built for aerial ridesharing. These include Aurora Flight Sciences (Boeing), Bell, EmbraerX, Jaunt Air Mobility, Karem Aircraft and Pipstrel Vertical Solutions. Uber Elevate also has ecosystem partners including: NASA, US Army Research Laboratory, Applied Scientific Research, ChargePoint, Empirical Systems Aeronautics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Hillwood, LaunchPoint Technologies, M4 Engineering, Molicel Energy Corp., Ecole Polytechnique, and UT Austin.
Uber Elevate Summit
The first Uber Elevate Summit of 2017 took place in April in Dallas, Texas, USA. It announced the role that Uber would be playing in the aerial ridesharing ecosystem, along with their initial set of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), chargers, infrastructure, and city partners concerning the opportunities, areas of collaboration and the vision towards initial urban eVTOL operations. Links to press releases from this summit are located here on the eVTOL News website.
The second Uber Elevate Summit in 2018 took place in May in Los Angeles, California, USA, links to video from this summit are located here on the eVTOL News website. The 2018 Summit also announced the eCRM-003 aircraft and many new partnerships. The third Uber Elevate Summit in 2019 took place in June in Washington, D.C., USA, links to multiple videos and photos from this summit are located here on the eVTOL News website.
Uber eCRM-004 Specifications:
- Propulsion: All electric
- Forward flight: 2 tiltrotor forward propellers which also tilt for additional VTOL capability.
- VTOL flight: 4 sets of stacked sets of co-rotating propellers for vertical flight on the booms and the fuselage.
- Pilot: 1
- Passengers: 4
- Boarding: On one side of the aircraft, only.
Uber Elevate eCRM General Specifications:
- Aircraft type: Must be a 100% all electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
- Safety: Must be an extremely safe aircraft which can make a vertical emergency landing in the event of a critical failure, including the collision with a bird.
- Noise: Must be a low noise aircraft for the people living in urban areas and for passengers.
- eVTOL terminals: Skyports are required for passenger boarding and deplaning.
- Aircraft communications: Excellent communications network needed. The aircraft must be able to securely report all operational data to operations, know its specific flight plan, can see all obstacles in real-time (buildings, cranes, powerlines and any type of other aircraft, including small drones) and be able to avoid them.
- Aircraft size: The aircraft is not to exceed 50 feet (15.24 m) in any direction and 20 feet (6.09 m) for its maximum height due to limited space at Skyports.
- Payload: Carry 4 passengers and each passenger can take 1 carry-on bag.
- Pilot: 1 pilot initially. eVTOL vehicles will be piloted and have a separate locked cockpit for security. Over time, the eVTOL aircraft will become autonomous.
- Taxiing capability: Aircraft must be able to perform a short ground taxi without the use of propellers.
- Cruising speed: The eVTOL aircraft must be able to cruise at 150 mph (241 km) with an additional ±15 mph (± 24 km/h) capability required for airspace sequencing and headwinds.
- Aircraft Range: Aircraft shall be able to fly 60 miles (96 km) one-way while maintaining enough energy to fly the reserve mission.
- Takeoff and maximum altitude: Vehicles shall be capable of takeoff and hover climb at 5,000 feet (1,524 km) density altitude.
- Repeatability: The vehicle must be able to operate continuously for at least 3 hours while flying 25 mile (40 km) missions. Continuous operations is defined as charging the batteries around 5-7 minutes between flights.
- Reserve power: The aircraft must have enough power at the end of a flight to divert up to 6 miles to an alternate landing site, if needed.
- List of all eVTOL News articles for Uber Elevate and Uber Air
- Uber Elevate website
- Uber Air website
- Uber Facebook
- Uber YouTube
- Uber Instagram
- Uber LinkedIn
- Requirements Paper: UberAir Vehicle Requirements and Missions, Uber Elevate
- Article: Distributed Electric Propulsion May Usher in a New Era of Flight, Sci Tech Daily, Jul. 21, 2015
- White Paper: Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation, Uber Elevate, Oct. 26, 2016
- Video: Elevate | Uber, Uber, Jul. 28, 2017
- Video: UBERAIR: Closer than you think | Uber, Uber, Nov. 8, 2017
- Video: Uber Elevate: eVTOL common reference model design, MHM Media, 2018
- Article: Uber releases eVTOL concepts to advance technology’s safety and noise characteristics, Vertical Magazine, May 8, 2019
- Article: Uber’s aerial taxi play. A closer look at uberAIR, a ridesharing network for the sky., TechCrunch, May 9, 2018
- Article: Uber Elevate Wrangles Electric Aircraft Leaders To Shake Off Negative Public Image, Clean Technica, May 13, 2018
- Article: Uber’s Skyports are just freeway onramps for flying cars, Curbed, May 17, 2018
- Article: Uber develops urban mass transport, but what is missing?, Grams Aviation Blog, May 17, 2018
- Article: Electrified Bell Nexus concept shows how Uber Air could take off, Green Car Reports, Mar. 10, 2019
- Article: Flying Taxis. Seriously?, National Public Radio, Mar. 17, 2019
- Article: Uber: From Ride Sharing to Transportation Ecosystem, Numerator, Mar. 19, 2019
- Article: The Air Taxi Challenges Uber Isn’t Considering, Rotor & Wing International, Apr. 23, 2019
- Article: These Uber Air ‘Skyport’ concepts look straight out of Star Wars, The Verge, May 9, 2019
- Article: Australia will be first non-US Uber Air location, Flight Global, Jun. 11, 2019
- Article: Uber’s air taxis will resemble really nice helicopters on the inside, The Verge, Jun. 11, 2019
- Video: UBER AIR: 360 Video | Uber Elevate | Uber, Uber, Jun. 11, 2019
- Video: UBER AIR: Our Vision | Uber Elevate | Uber, Uber, Jun. 11, 2019
- Article: Here Are the eVTOL Aircraft Concepts On Display at Uber Elevate, Rotor & Wing International, Jun. 12, 2019
- Video: Uber Elevate Summit 2019 | Uber (3rd Annual), Uber, Jun 14, 2019
- Article: Will we be flying in Uber's automated air taxis soon? Boeing exec says he 'wouldn't be that aggressive', The Dallas Morning News, Jun. 20, 2019
- Article: Your inside look into Uber Air’s new flying taxi! Melbourne 2020!, The Next Rush Magazine, Jun. 24, 2019
- Article: Uber’s future mobility plans include a lot of flying, Top Speed, Jul. 3, 2019
- Article: Uber Works to Make Air Taxis the Future of Urban Transport, Government Technology, Jul. 25, 2019
- Article: Interview: How Uber Views Electric VTOL Aircraft, UAM Operations and Safety, Aviation Today, Jan. 20, 2020
- Article: Uber’s Aerial Rideshare Project ‘Entering the Next Phase’, Avionics International, Jan. 22, 2020
- Article: Uber Elevate turns its focus to community engagement, eVTOL, Jan. 22, 2020
- Article: Can urban air mobility survive without Uber?, eVTOL, Nov. 6, 2020
- Article: Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby, Axios, Dec. 2, 2020
- Article: Uber reportedly in talks to offload Elevate to Joby Aviation, eVTOL, Dec. 2, 2020