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  • Saurabh Bhandari

Uber Elevate: Redefining the urban transport.

Updated: Nov 30, 2018



As one of the most promising startup of its time, what would you do when you’ve pretty much dominated your space?


You look up and make an audacious plan to conquer the skies.


I’m talking about Uber here and after conquering the on demand taxi business they are setting the bar high and want to extend the Uber concept to the world of flying taxis.


The business landscape is rife with examples of ambitious firms which grew rapidly and later fell flat on their faces courtesy of some delusional projects they undertook.


Uber, with its new and ambitious project of offering shared flights for intra-city commuting which is called Uber Elevate seems like a plan but the chances of this project falling flat on its face are close to zero- the reason why I say this is because the growth and rapid expansion of Uber across many countries stands as a testimony to their dedication and execution in putting things together and get the ball rolling rather quickly.


On the face of it, flying taxis may not seem like that big of a problem but there are infact major problems of colossal magnitude and depth; and Uber is trying their best to address these problems and turn Uber Elevate into a thriving business.


Lets try to deconstruct the kind of problems Uber is trying to solve,


Vehicle design:

It’s a very well known fact that the turnaround time for a new aircraft to make its way from the drawing paper to actual production and obtaining airworthiness certification thereafter takes atleast 15-20 years if not more. For this challenge, the vehicle in use should have a radically different design than the current flying machines that we see around. The solution is to design compact flying pods which can take off and land much like helicopters but without the noise associated with the helicopters. These flying pods would make use of electric propulsion and would be called eVTOL(electric vertical take off and landing) aircrafts.



Challenges of electric propulsion:

Using electricity to drive the motors which have propellers fitted at one of their ends to generate lift and thrust sounds too easy to achieve theoretically but practically adapting electric drives for aerial use has it’s own set of limitations. For ex: In an electric car the motor is required to perform at its maximum rated power or RPM only under rapid accelerations like when you’re on an open highway but for the average urban driving it’s hardly reaching the red line. whereas in an aircraft the motor driving the propeller is required to run consistently at 80% of its maximum rated power to generate enough lift and thrust. This endurance of the electric motors is somethings which is yet to be achieved. The other piece of this puzzle are the batteries themselves, the best of the batteries that exist today still do not have the sufficient power density to weight ratio and recharge times that are required for sustained flights.


The current ATC(air traffic control system):

The current air traffic system what we have at the airports is designed and works best for such setups as airports but when we are talking thousands if not millions of low altitude flights within a day in an effective radius of 60-70 kms, the challenges and the amount of errors that can cause mishaps are unprecedented. We need to rethink the way we see our airspace and how to organize and regulate this newfound traffic of vehicles such that they do not disturb the existing operations and routes of civil/commercial aviation.

Air safety regulations: The current airspace and air safety regulations are all laid out and ruled by either the FAA or ESA, these agencies put out rules and regulations about the safety requirements of the aircrafts and regulate airspace around the world. With Uber Elevate, these agencies would be required to look into a completely new area and design guidelines for smoother operations of these services- this is going to be a challenge in itself.


Government partnerships:

The sheer scale and impact of this business idea makes it imperative to be in close association with the local governments and have their support available all the time. So far, Uber was using the "first offence then defence" strategy wherein they first launched their services in geographies where they faced opposition and then resorting to solving issues by leveraging customer support to aid their cause. Uber it seems to have learnt quite a strong lesson now and they wouldn’t want to take any chances and are trying their best to take the local governments into confidence.


Real estate regulation:

The biggest spectacles of this ambitious project are definitely going to be the skyports, skyports are nothing but the nodal points where these flying vehicles would land and take off from. These skyports are assumed to handle hundreds of such flights daily and for that to happen- they need to be built, regulated and operated under a completely new set of guidelines. These structures would be resource intensive and would demand new set of rules on how such real estate space can be acquired, developed and sourced. This would truly be an exercise of rewriting the rules for the real estate industry.


Business model challenges:

For this kind of mega project it wouldn’t serve the purpose at all if this service of ride sharing on a flying pod becomes a vanity or a thing of luxury which very few can afford. Uber Elevate’s success solely depends on its ability to become a service for the masses as soon as possible. For this to become a mass product, Uber will have to find newer ways to cut down or augment their costs at the same time keeping the prices of the service affordable.


How Uber is solving all the above problems?


As is evident, Uber Elelvate is going to be one hell of a project requiring co-operation and collaboration from each and everyone of the stakeholders in their value chain. They are exclusively building partnerships and aircraft manufacturers, technology providers, battery manufacturers, technical experts in the areas of aviation and transport, the governments, regulators and what not. Few months back they conducted the first ever Uber Elevate conference to bring all of the stakeholders under one roof and present to the world their collective effort of putting a step forward in writing the next era of air transport. looking at the kind of passion Uber’s team is showing in solving this problem, we may very soon see their first fleet of vehicles flying in the sky soon.


Looks like that time is very near, when we would look out of our window and see hundreds of flying pods effortlessly zipping across the skyline of our cities.


Lessons for current and aspiring entrepreneurs:


Uber Elevate, teaches us some important lessons,

- that a startup should never settle and rest on its laurels.

- No matter how big or complex the problem may be, its just a matter of putting the right team together to solve it.

- The future of business is collaboration and not competition.


Let us know in the comments what are your takeaways from this article.


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