Before Uber can get its network of flying electric taxis off the ground, it will need the right infrastructure, including special chargers to keep the batteries full of energy.
So the ride-hailing service is partnering with startup ChargePoint to develop chargers that will fit any vertical take-off and landing aircraft, a.k.a. “flying cars," the companies announced Tuesday at the Elevate Summit, a three-day conference in Dallas focused on this futuristic form of transportation.
Uber first announced its flying car plans in October when it released a white paper describing its vision of the future. The Uber Elevate program aims to build a network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically. These vehicles, called VTOL (pronounced vee-tol), would theoretically help passengers leapfrog snarling traffic and speed up transportation between suburbs and cities. Ultimately, the program would target transportation within cities as well.
ChargePoint, which has built out an extensive network of public charging stations as well as a mobile app, will design, develop, and manufacture flying-car chargers at designated Uber Elevate Vertiports, which will serve as hubs for taking off, landing, and charging.
The ability to rapidly charge a battery on a VTOL is essential to Uber's vision, according to Nikhil Goel, the company's head of product for advanced programs.
The first stations are expected to be in place by 2020, but ChargePoint doesn't have an estimate on how many will be installed by then. The company will base the vertiport chargers off its existing Express Plus system—ultra-fast DC chargers designed for electric cars, buses, and trucks—and they will incorporate modular design and liquid cooling technology that was developed to allow for thin, flexible charging cables.
The VTOLs will require about 300 kilowatts more energy than electric cars, so ChargePoint says it will need to develop new cooling technology to keep the battery and cords at an optimal temperature during ultra-fast charging. ChargePoint hasn't determined what this infrastructure will cost. A spokesman said it will vary based on vertiport details and design.
“At ChargePoint, we are committed to getting everyone behind the wheel of an EV and keeping all types of EVs charged, no matter whether they roll, fly or float,” ChargePoint President and CEO Pasquale Romano said in a statement. “Partnering with Uber Elevate will take both transportation and charging to a new level."
Under Uber's vision first revealed last year, passengers would board a VTOL at fixed, designated spots like repurposed tops of parking garages, existing helipads, or unused land surrounding highway interchanges. The VTOL would lift vertically like a helicopter to a cruising altitude of a few thousand feet and then fly forward like a plane. Upon reaching its destination, the VTOL would descend vertically to a designated drop-off/pick-up point.
Uber has hired engineer Mark Moore, a 30-year veteran of NASA and the former chief technologist for on-demand mobility at Langley Research Center, to develop the technology.