CES 2020: eVTOLs Vie for Attention

Two electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) craft captured spectators’ attention at the 2020 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Mick Akers of the Review-Journal reported on Bell’s Nexus 4EX, an updated prototype or the concept machine they showed last year, and the New Hyundai SA-1, unveiled as part of its partnership with Uber.

The Bell Nexus 4EX

Akers reports, “After lighting up CES 2019 with its Nexus vertical takeoff and landing aircraft model, Bell returned this year with an updated prototype: the Nexus 4EX.”

Unlike last year’s hybrid version, the 4EX will be fully electric.  Akers noted that, “the 4EX features four fan ducts, a reduction from the six shown with last year’s model.”

Bell promotes the benefit more marketers in the UAM segment are attacking – time.  “Your commute, transformed.  Turn a 45-minute drive into a 10-minute flight. The safe, convenient Air Taxi is designed to let you make the most of your commute. Its sleek cabin offers a comfortable space for you to relax. Or work. Or socialize. All while saving your most precious resource: time.”  If you have a pressing need to fly at 150 mph within a 60-mile radius, the Nexus will get you there quickly.

Akers added, “Bell brought along mini drone versions of the Nexus 4EX model and flew them around a miniature city to display how the system would work.”

Mitch Synder, CEO and president of Bell, explains the more expansive plans that “system” would entail.  “With focus on the passenger experience, we revealed the technology and the vehicle that will revolutionize transportation in cities at CES 2019. This year we’re demonstrating what governing, operating, working and living in a smart city will look like.”

Smart aircraft and cities will require smart software, so Bell is partnering with Microsoft Azure on which the Bell AerOS system will run.   According to Akers, “The service was created to manage fleet information, observe aircraft health and manage throughput of goods, product and predictive data and maintenance.”

Hyundai SA-1

Doubling down on Bell’s four rotors (appropriate in Las Vegas), Hyundai’s SA-1 features four tilt rotors and four lift rotors.

Duplicating Bell’s payload with four passengers and a pilot, the SA-1 is a largish 35 feet long, with its 7,000 pound gross weight carried not just on eight rotors, but wing of almost 50 feet.

Close to the Bell’s performance, the SA-1 cruises at 150 mph, with a top cruising speed of 180 mph possible. 100 percent-electric, the sky taxi can fly 63 miles.  Most craft designed within Uber’s parameters will have similar performance.

Recently recruited after a 30-year career with NASA, Jaiwon Shin, executive vice president and head of Hyundai’s Urban Mobility Division, says, “Our vision of Urban Air Mobility will transform the concept of urban transportation.  We expect UAM to vitalize urban communities and provide more quality time to people.”

Big Two Dominate, But Others Chime In

The transformative possibilities of UAMs will not be possible without ground-based support systems.  Bell and Hyundai had exhibits glorifying their approaches to meeting this need, and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) comments on this.

Headlined, “Urban Air Mobility Dominates Headlines at CES 2020,” the organization explains that as a followup to its Nexus vehicles from 2019 and 2020, Bell showed off AerOS.   They describe is as,“A digital fleet management mobility platform designed to assist eVTOL operators and cities with the complicated task of integrating UAM into the ‘vertical landscape’ over metropolitan areas.”

In a Bell Nexus City display, scale models of the 4EX and their autonomous pod transport cargo delivery vehicle lifted off and landed on rooftops as they would in reality, managed by the AerOS platform.

Hyundai’s approach is a bit more integrated.  Their “smart mobility solution” includes the Hub, linking the S-A1 and other UAM aircraft to Hyundai’s Purpose-Built Vehicle (PBV), an autonomous ground transporter offering customized onboard dining, retail or medical service options.  The Hub, a modular system, provides docking not only for the aircraft, but for many types of PBVs that seem to be possible.

Linked to the hub, a variety of PBVs would haul people or cargo and even charge the other vehicles.

“Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience of manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale,” said Uber Elevate’s Eric Allison. “Combining Hyundai’s manufacturing muscle with Uber’s technology platform represents a giant leap forward for launching a vibrant air taxi network in the coming years.”

Uber Air

Uber had presented three design concepts to manufacturers for aerial vehicles which would suit its Elevate program.  Bell, Hyundai, and five others are working on delivering these vehicles so Uber Air can fly them commercially in Los Angeles, Dallas and Melbourne, Australia by 2023.

Uber has been flying conventional helicopters in New York City as a demonstration of how the program would work.  According to the NBAA, “The service would be carried out by creating skyports, which would be placed in high volume areas of cities, where up to 1,000 landings per hour could occur, according to Uber Elevate’s website.”  See also the White Paper Uber released in 2016 on its anticipated part in urban mobility.

Yolanka Wulff, Co Executive Director at Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI), echos this idea.”Urban air mobility will have to be properly integrated into existing and future metro, bus, and other transit options for the full-trip time savings of taking to the air to be realized.”  CAMI is working with state and local jurisdictions to solve these issues.

More to Come

This blog will cover more of the ground-based support systems for the potential UAM boom.  Report on two architects who designed Uber Elevate Skyports, a realtor who has developed an exurban neighborhood that would be friendly to fixed or rotary-winged aircraft, we will look at the potential for longer-range UAMs to support a different way to commute.

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