Researchers at the University of Texas' Cockrell School of Engineering have been tapped to help propel Uber "air taxis" into the sky.
UberAIR – the ride-hailing company's proposed urban aviation program – is set to launch flight demonstrations in Dallas and Los Angeles by 2020. The service is scheduled to be commercially available to riders by 2023.
Jayant Sirohi, the project's lead researcher, said the aircraft is designed to land like a helicopter and fly like a plane, but it needs special rotors to do that.
UT is partnering with the U.S. Army Research Labs to develop co-rotating rotors –propellers stacked on top of each other that rotate in the same direction. The rotor system will control the aircraft’s vertical take off and landing.
"This taxi is meant to take off vertically, fly forward, and land vertically, so the system of rotors that we’re looking at will allow it to take off and land vertically,” Sirohi said.
Researchers will test efficiency and noise levels.
"We have a rotorcraft research center [at UT]," said Sirohi, an associate professor at UT's Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. "We've been working on different types of helicopter orders, scale models of these orders, but specifically for this rotor system it's the first time for us."
Sirohi said the rotor system is more efficient and will increase the aircrafts' versatility and performance. He said the project will take about 18 months.
The electric aircraft will have a cruising speed of 150-200 mph at an altitude of between 1,000-2,000 feet. It will also have the ability to travel 60 miles on a single charge.
The first phase will likely have a human operator, said Amit Bhasin, director for UT's Center for Transportation Research, but the ultimate goal is for the air taxis to be autonomous.
Uber has partnerships with several major aircraft manufacturers for the project and has signed a deal with NASA, which will help develop sky traffic rules and safety systems.
“Uber’s urban air mobility concept aims to revolutionize transportation,” Sirohi said.