As with most any industry show, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is always a great source for live auto news. And at the 2020 CES, Hyundai announced a new partnership with ride-share giant Uber to propel their newly-formed Urban Air Mobility division forward, to make their proposed air-taxi service a reality.
The concept of Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs) is something humanity has associated with ‘the future’ since the time of Leonardo DaVinci. The idea enjoyed a resurgence in late 19th-century fiction, inspiring countless engineers and science fiction creators. And while we’ve missed Back to the Future II’s prediction of Hover Conversions by five years, it looks like we might be closer than people realize thanks to the partnership’s SA-1 flying taxi concept.
The SA-1 is designed to transport four passengers (and a pilot) for trips up to 60 miles, at cruising altitudes up to 2,000 feet, and at speeds up to 180 mph. As an extension of Uber’s current technology, the SA-1 service would be app-based, allowing you to hail the airborne vehicles the same way that one would a Hyundai Accent.
I Can Hear What You’re Thinking From Here…
“But Mitch, the Accent is a piece of shit on the ground. Why would we want to fly around in an airborne Accent, when we don’t even want to drive around in one that rides on the ground?”
It’s a valid point. But what if I told you it was less an Accent, and more the bastard love-child of a Veloster N that took the technology equivalent of the beef-boat to tuna town with a high-end remote control drone, while BTS’ Greatest Hits played in the background? Does that work better for you?
Damn right, it does. I can almost hear you pulling up that BTS playlist from here.
And what if I told you that the SA-1 project was being headed up by Dr. Jaiwon Shin, former administrator of the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA? What? You’re still trying to figure out if you actually like (or despise) the music of BTS? We’re right there with you, pal…
But Assurance of Safety is Important…
We hope the SA-1 will offer pilots who are more skilled than the average Uber driver, and we certainly hope that they’re more skilled than the stereotypical metropolitan cab driver. And as anyone who visited our offices after Christmas 2017 could attest to, we hope that the SA-1 pilots are more skilled at flying those air taxis than we were at flying the mini-drones that our CFO bought for each of us.
But let’s address the real elephant in the room. That’s right…
How Will the SA-1 Improve Uber Eats?
Currently, Uber Eats is available in over 500 cities worldwide, empowering foodies and fatty fat-fatties everywhere to have their favorite foods delivered to their doorstep, without the need for human movement, actual effort, or human interaction. In 2018 alone, the four-year-old service had generated $1.46 billion in revenue, and (in 2020) it now boasts an estimated 91 million active monthly users. But those of us who live substantially outside of active Uber Eats cities might be out of luck.
It’s bad enough that we have to constantly choose between local pizza places and Chinese food restaurants unless we want to drive more than 30 minutes. The fact that we still have to exert actual effort to secure those foods seems almost criminal. Now, there’s no guarantee that the introduction of an airborne Uber fleet would be used to enhance Uber Eats, but let’s consider the possibilities.
My Math Teachers are Rolling Over in Their Graves (Even the Living Ones)
One criticism levied at Uber Eats is the length of the wait time for delivery. In some cases, you might wait as long as 60-90 minutes (which seems insane, considering the push for pizza chains to deliver within 30 minutes or less), but it’s a simple matter of math.
According to Uber Eats, “a delivery zone is unique to each restaurant and will change over time. They are dynamic and determined by an algorithm that evaluates many favorites that include cuisine type, location, distance, and expected total delivery time to create the best experience’. But the average distance for food deliveries is only about five miles. Having gone to summer school three years in a row back in the mid-’90s, I could tell you that (assuming 20 minutes of meal prep) 40-70 minutes for a delivery that’s only five miles away equates to an average speed of 7.5 mph. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that this is the scientific benchmark for how long it takes for the melty deliciousness of mozzarella sticks to die.
If Uber Eats was to go airborne at speed up to 180 mph, you could receive your food delivery before the grease even cools. Now that’s progress. Needless to say, we’ll be watching the development of the SA-1 project with great interest, and a growling stomach, while we wait for the Chipotle, we ordered two-and-a-half weeks ago.