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By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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Hyundai reveals S-A1 air taxi, Uber Elevate partnership

Hyundai Motor Company is joining Uber’s Elevate initiative with a new eVTOL air taxi model called S-A1.

Hyundai S-A1 air taxi
Hyundai’s S-A1 air taxi is optimized for the Uber Elevate mission and is heavily influenced by Uber’s common reference models. Hyundai/Uber Image

Hyundai revealed the aircraft and its partnership with Uber on Jan. 6 at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hyundai is the first automotive manufacturer to sign on to Uber’s urban air mobility (UAM) vision, bringing with it an established track record of mass producing electric vehicles.

“Hyundai is Uber Elevate’s first vehicle partner with capabilities to manufacture at automotive scale, and we believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber air taxis at rates not possible in the current aerospace industry,” said Uber Elevate head Eric Allison at Hyundai’s CES press event. “Building on their investments in mass-market, all-electric vehicles, Hyundai’s manufacturing muscle, combined with Uber’s technology platform, presents a giant leap forward for launching air taxis at global scale.”

Mass production of air taxis will be key to enabling “the democratization of flight,” explained Hyundai head of urban air mobility Dr. Jaiwon Shin, who joined the company from NASA.

“At Hyundai, we know how to mass produce high-quality vehicles with cost efficiency and reliability, which is a key enabler for reducing overall operating costs. We are confident that our experience and insight as a mass producer of vehicles will give us a significant advantage to achieve affordability of our UAM vehicles,” he said.

Hyundai’s S-A1 design draws heavily on common reference models released by Uber as part of its open design process — which “is particularly fitting because openly releasing reference designs to spur collaboration and to spur innovation is a play we learned from NASA,” Allison pointed out.

The four-passenger S-A1 is optimized for Uber’s urban air mobility mission, with a target cruise speed of up to 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), a projected range of 60 miles (100 km), and a recharging time of five to seven minutes during peak operating hours.

The fully electric, winged aircraft features four sets of stacked co-rotating propellers for vertical flight, and four tilting propellers for both vertical and forward flight. It is designed to take off and land vertically and transition to wing-borne lift in cruise.

“The S-A1 will be much quieter than conventional helicopters with smaller and multiple rotors rotating at much slower speeds than the main rotor of a typical helicopter,” Shin said, noting that this design also offers significant redundancy. For added safety, the S-A1 will have a parachute deployment system for emergency landings.

Hyundai expects its air taxis to be piloted initially, but transition to autonomous operations over time.

The company also plans to focus heavily on the passenger experience, integrating its “industry expertise in cabin design, vehicle dynamics, and customer comfort to ensure an enjoyable, safe, and convenient means of air travel,” Shin said.

Hyundai air taxi Hub
Hyundai’s overarching urban mobility vision sees its air taxis coming together with customizable “purpose built vehicles” at community “Hubs.” Hyundai Image

Hyundai’s S-A1 personal air vehicle (PAV) is one element of a broader urban mobility vision the company is showcasing at CES. Another element is a purpose built vehicle (PBV) concept that Hyundai is calling the S-Link — a highly customizable ground vehicle that can function not only as an autonomous urban shuttle, but also as a restaurant, hotel, or medical clinic, for example.

Hyundai envisions PAVs and PBVs coming together at “Hubs,” which will serve as skyports as well as diverse community spaces. “Our new Hub will connect air and ground based mobility solutions while providing new public spaces that will further facilitate human interactions,” said Hyundai Motor Group chief innovation officer Youngcho Chi.

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