Urban air mobility (UAM) could fast become a household term, thanks to the global community of builders, investors, policymakers and government officials all working together to elevate urban transportation into the vertical dimension.
That international collaboration was on full display earlier this month at the third annual Uber Elevate Summit in Washington D.C., where 1,200 industry leaders came together to discuss the future of urban aviation and share current progress. From new partnership announcements and regulatory updates to the latest in technological breakthroughs, the summit left attendees inspired and wanting more of the ingenuity, creativity and innovation that spilled out of the Reagan Building for two immersive days.
If you didn’t get a chance to see the event for yourself, don’t worry. We took plenty of notes. Here’s a quick look at our biggest takeaways from this year’s Uber Elevate Summit:
It’s time to move to the sky
Uber’s solid customer base of 93 million active users on the ground positions the company for a successful transition to the skies. But, will Uber be ready to handle the new aerial lanes? Uber says yes, stating its vertical takeoff and landing skyports will be able to handle 1,000 flights per hour. Uber also has the support of many industry players, including Bell, one of its first Uber Elevate relationships. Bell is behind the development of the Bell Nexus air taxi, which was featured at the 2019 summit.
Where to start
Uber announced Melbourne, Australia, as the first city outside the United States to debut its air taxis. The Aussie city joins Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles, California, beating out a handful of other potentials sites for a variety of reasons, including the local government’s forward-looking approach to ridesharing and future transport technology. Uber didn’t make the decision lightly, either. Its evaluation included market factors, environmental and climate conditions, current policy and regulatory frameworks, Infrastructure and many other criteria.
Getting its sea legs (Or air legs. Actually, wings)
On July 9, Uber Copter is set to join the growing helicopter air taxi industry alongside providers like BLADE Urban Air Mobility, which began its service in March. Uber Copter represents the first Uber Air project to take flight and will operate between lower Manhattan and JFK Airport, cutting transportation time between the locations from as high as two hours during peak traffic times down to eight minutes. Uber Copter will also give Uber the opportunity to learn customers’ needs and get hands-on experience working under FAA regulations.
Get it right
Safety and regulation were common themes at Uber Elevate, particularly the issue of remote identification. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao dove into the topic more closely, illustrating that remote IDs can be thought of as electric license plates that allow agencies to know who’s flying and where they are going. Establishing a reliable ID system will be a critical step in the process. Dan Elwell, the acting administrator of the FAA, also spoke at the conference and stated his agency is out front on that issue and many others surrounding urban air mobility.
And then there are drones
Uber Eats is working with Uber Elevate and McDonald’s to test drone delivery. Today it’s a Big Mac at your door, but tomorrow it could be your favorite pizza from a city over. Drone delivery can cut down on delivery times and pave the way for delivering higher stake items.
Skyports were also a big point of focus at Uber Elevate. These are the specified locations where air taxis will take off and land, similar to helipads but far more extensive. In fact, eight architectural and design firms unveiled 16 skyport concepts, some of which allotted space for charging bikes, scooters and electric vehicles, plus lounges, restaurants and coffee shops. Uber Elevate hopes to work with real estate developers and cities to install these skyports on top of parking garages and other uncritical structures as part of its Skyport Mobility Hub.
Probably the most common term used at Uber Elevate was the aerial transportation “ecosystem.” And, for good reason. The success of Uber Air hinges on whether all parties involved can create an ecosystem where everything works and communicates together seamlessly, from batteries and skyports to air traffic management and several other critical components.
It’s clear the vertical century has arrived. And, Bell Executive Vice President of Technology and Innovation Michael Thacker punctuated those words during his Uber Elevate presentation. He highlighted the importance of key relationships, like Bell and Uber’s, in developing an urban aviation system that’s cleaner, quieter, more accessible and safer than existing transportation options. Together, he said, the ecosystem can bring us into the future and alleviate many of today’s big-city inconveniences, like traffic, congestion and pollution, just to name a few.
Until then, we’ll just have to get a few more miles out of our hatchbacks and sedans (No pressure, Uber).