Uber announced that it has selected Aurora Flight Sciences as a partner to develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for its Uber Elevate Network. The network is scheduled to debut in 2020 at Dallas-Forth Worth airport and in Dubai, where users will be able to get rides in the aircraft. Uber is also partnering with Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer, Mooney, and Bell Helicopter to build the electric aircraft.
The aircraft design is based on Aurora’s X-plane that it is building for the U.S. Department of Defense. The wing and canard of the aircraft utilize a hybrid structure of carbon fiber and 3-D printed thermoplastics to achieve highly complex structural and aerodynamic surfaces with minimal weight. That X-Plane, dubbed the XV-24A and funded by DARPA, completed a flight test program in Webster Outlying Field in Southern Maryland in early March.
“The Uber Elevate mission is all about low noise, high reliability, and low cost,” Aurora CEO John Langford wrote in a press release. “By drawing on our nearly 30 years of successful autonomy and robotic programs, Aurora is well positioned to deliver on this urban solution. We have already built and flown the first proof-of-concept aircraft and we’re excited to partner with Uber in accelerating the eVTOL initiative.”
Through this venture, Uber will be competing against A3, an Airbus subsidiary that last year revealed plans to fly a prototype of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) electric and autonomous aircraft called “Vahana.” Like the Uber/Aurora aircraft, the Vahana also makes extensive use of carbon fiber. It is scheduled for its first test at the end of 2017.
Another company, Lilium, has already tested its own VTOL jet. The Lilium jet is entirely 3-D printed and made of carbon fiber composites. Earlier this year, Atomico, led by Skype co-founder and former CEO Niklas Zennström, invested €10 million ($10.7 million) in Lilium.