Engineers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) partnered with the United States Army Research Labs to help Uber get its proposed flying taxis off the ground by 2023.
The university’s Cockrell School of Engineering announced Thursday they will help develop rotor, or propeller, technology for the airborne ride-share commercial network, UberAIR, an unmanned full service electric powered shuttle service in the sky.
“UT is uniquely positioned to contribute to this new technology, and Uber has recognized that,” said Jayant Sirohi, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, in a prepared statement. Sirohi will lead the UT team on the project. “In addition to the technical expertise we bring to this area, we also already have a rig to test new rotor configurations right here on campus.”
The design of the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that will be used in this project calls for a fully electric vehicle with a cruising speed of 150-200 miles per hour (mph), a cruising altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, and the ability to complete trips of up to 60 miles on a single charge.
Sirohi is one of the nation’s leading experts in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, VTOL aircraft, and fixed- and rotary-wing aeroelasticity, according to the university. His team includes postdoctoral fellow Christopher Cameron and Charles Tinney from UT’s Applied Research Laboratories. They will explore the efficiency and noise factors of stacked co-rotating propellers, for VTOL. UT-Austin described this as a “novel flying technology in which two rotor systems are placed on top of each other and rotate in the same direction.” Sirohi told the Austin Business Journal Uber will pay UT around $185,000 for 18 months of work.
Preliminary testing of stacked rotors concept has shown promising results over other approaches. Engineers say this also improves versatility and overall performance for the flying people movers.
As part of the UberAIR program, the company entered into agreements with several major aircraft manufacturers and signed a space agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to investigate air traffic management concepts and aerial safety systems for the driverless urban people movers.
Last year, the San Francisco-based Uber unveiled its drone-like looking aircraft prototype at the second Uber Elevate Summit. They announced the Dallas-Fort Worth area as one of two U.S. cities to test drive the aviation ridesharing program. Initial flight demonstrations are expected to begin in 2020 followed by the full-scale rollout of UberAIR by 2023. Los Angeles is the other U.S. pilot city. Uber Elevate chose these two major metros because they “suffer from major traffic congestion,” according to UT-Austin.
In Dallas, Hillwood Properties, headed up by Ross Perot, Jr., teamed up with Uber to develop and construct skyports called “vertiports” from where these fleets will take-off and land. The Dallas Business Journal reported Hillwood plans to create two to five launch pads in North Texas within the year. The first will be located at DFW Airport and in the City of Frisco’s 242-acre mixed used development named Frisco Station. Currently under construction, this property sits adjacent to the $1.5 billion Dallas Cowboys headquarters and practice facility located on a 91-acre campus that includes offices, retail, restaurants, and entertainment.
UT-Austin estimated current rush hour drive time from DFW International Airport to Frisco, a distance of roughly 24 miles, as up to an hour. However, they said this same travel could be cut to less than 10 minutes in an UberAIR vehicle.
This summer, Frisco launched a six month pilot program for a self-driving car service to shuttle more than 10,000 people along a fixed “geo-fenced” area in the suburban city’s bustling North Platinum Corridor, filled with office, retail, and entertainment spaces.
Uber also chose the Arab Emirates city-state of Dubai as the lone international site for testing the flying vehicles.
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