Thursday, October 27, 2016

Uber to Challenge Airbus in the Autonomous Electric Flying Taxi Business

As the only analysts covering the nascent as-yet-theoretical autonomous electric flying taxi market we intend to be the the go-to source for all things autonomous electric flying taxi and/or theoretical.

From Forbes:

Uber's vision for revolutionizing urban transportation includes helicopter-like Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicles. (Uber)
 Uber’s vision for revolutionizing urban transportation includes helicopter-like Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicles. (Uber)
Taking a page from tech industrialist Elon Musk, well known for promoting audacious futuristic concepts including a Mars colonization plan and a vacuum tube-based Hyperloop system to transport people and cargo at near supersonic speed, ridehailing giant Uber has laid out a vision for the future that includes small, helicopter-like vehicles to help commuters literally overcome congested roadways.

The company sketched out the concept in a post on today by Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer. It also posted a 97-page white paper detailing the benefits and challenges of creating such a service.

Forget about terrible freeway traffic. If Uber’s idea is realized, some day commuters will summon flying-car-type VTOLs, or Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicles, to ferry them to their destination, avoiding ground-based headaches. The company hasn’t itself perfected the technology, but envisions electric, fixed-wing vehicles with multiple overhead propellers. Ideally, they would take off and land at spaces including existing office building helipads, from atop modified parking garages or even used available land near highway interchanges to create a network of “vertiports,” according to the company.

“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes,” Holden said in the post. “A network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically will enable rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, ultimately, within cities.”

Unlike helicopters, these vehicles would need to be much quieter and “will ultimately use autonomy technology to significantly reduce operator error,” he said.

In contrast to Musk’s Hyperloop proposal, the technology for an airborne ride-hailing system may not be as challenging as the legal and regulatory issues. In particular, showing that this type of low-flying vehicle can operate safely in urban environments will be tricky, said Katie Thomson, a former general counsel for the U.S. Transportation Department who now chairs the transportation group for Morrison & Foerster LLP.

“The technological aspects of a driverless passenger plane are much easier to tackle than the operational/integration aspects,” Thomson said. “As a general matter, the public is willing to accept less risk when it comes to flying than they tend to be when they are using surface transportation.”
She sees three significant hurdles ahead if Uber moves forward with its on-demand air transportation plan. These include creating a workable air traffic control system and airworthiness standards for such vehicles; managing noise issues; and the need for Uber to meet a federal “economic fitness review” to be authorized to operate as a new air carrier....MORE
To date, Airbus seems to have the better drawings although Uber's bank account could theoretically support all the artists on earth past the, say, kindergarten level.

See also yesterday's:

The Effect Of Airbus' Cash Squeeze On Their Autonomous Flying Taxi Project Is Probably Nil
for the genesis of our securities research interest:
Following up on this morning's "Planes, Trains and (self-driving) Automobiles".

Back in August we posted "Airbus Reveals Ambitious Plan for Autonomous Flying Taxis" with the comment:
"Your move, Uber."
Now I'm starting to wish I hadn't pulled Mr. Kalanick's teat quite so hard....
Here's Airbus' Future of Urban Mobility page.

And here are Uber's "Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation" at Medium and the 97 page PDF of the same name.

Discerning reader will note a potential marketing differentiation between the two companies:

While Airbus' A³ mentions parachutes on their welcome page, Uber doesn't drop the P-word until page 22 of the white paper, but then goes further by referring to the (also theoretical) bouncing-baby-all-swaddled-up approach to safety:
Achieving high perceived safety is also valuable, especially during the initial adoption. Recent GA aircraft have implemented an emergency safety mode that’s equivalent to pulling to the side of the road. By avoiding the use of a large rotor, a DEP aircraft is also able to take advantage of Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS) whole vehicle parachutes that can be deployed in an emergency to safely bring the vehicle to the ground, and it can avail itself of other evolving safety technologies being tested such as whole aircraft airbags.
GA is general aviation, 
Ballistic Recovery is a publicly traded company probably ripe for a pump-n-dump, 2¢, last.  

And Uber isn't really challenging Airbus because while Uber says they will deploy the autonomous electric flying taxis, Airbus intends to approach things from the manufacturing side.
No word on what Apple is up to.
And NVIDIA has probably already developed the chip to make it all happen, stored in some back room in Santa Clara, waiting for the market to catch up.
(we like love NVIDIA but cautious ahead of earnings)