Uber's Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, an aerial taxi of the future

Uber and the US Army working together to develop quiet aircraft

Image credit: Uber

Military aircraft and flying cars of the future may be far quieter than conventional aircraft thanks to new technology being developed under a partnership between Uber and the US Army.

The new rotor technology is also designed to offer vertical lift functionality for take-off and landing in tight spots, a necessity if plans to bring flying cars to cities ever reach fruition.

The alliance highlights stepped-up efforts by Uber and other companies to transform flying cars from a science-fiction concept to real hardware for residents of mega-cities, where driving is a time-consuming bore.

The ride-sharing company unveiled a flying car concept aircraft yesterday at its second annual Uber Elevate Summit.

Uber and the US Army’s Research, Development and Engineering division are expecting to spend $1m (£740,000) to develop and test prototypes for the new rotor system.

The system would have two rotors stacked on top of each other, rotating in the same direction under the command of sophisticated software.

Initial experimentation of this concept has shown it to be significantly quieter than traditional paired rotor approaches and it improves performance for a flying craft, but so far stacked co-rotating rotors have not been deployed in existing flying craft.

“Achieving ultra-low noise is one of the critical obstacles” to deploying aerial taxis in urban areas, Rob McDonald, head of vehicle engineering for Uber Elevate, the company’s flying car operation, said in an interview.

The Army wants to develop a new generation of unmanned drones that do not need runways and are quieter than current drones, said Dr. Jaret Riddick, director of the US Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.

The Army is increasingly turning to partnerships with private companies to research advanced technology, Riddick said.

Uber is planning more alliances with government agencies as it aims to launch prototype airborne taxis by 2020, Mark Moore, Uber’s director of engineering, aircraft systems and a former Nasa researcher, said in an interview.

Uber already has a partnership with Nasa to develop software for managing large numbers of aircraft over cities, Moore said.

Uber is one of several companies, including aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus and a venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, that are investing in the concept of small, automated and electrified aircraft that could be used to ferry passengers or cargo across congested cities.

The Airbus venture announced in March saw the company partnering with Audi to develop a modular passenger drone and electric car hybrid named Pop.Up Next that would also be autonomous. 

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