Flying cars, air taxis and autonomous delivery drones will soon be coming to our roads and skies… and could be heading for Coventry before anywhere else.
That’s because British firm Urban Air Port and Korean car maker Hyundai have today unveiled plans for the world’s first pop-up mobile airport for these vehicles located in the heart of the Midlands city, which is due to be completed by November this year.
Called Air-One, it can be installed in a matter of days and is set to become the smallest airport ever. It has been designed with ultra-compact dimensions so it can be implemented in towns and cities to allow electric air taxis and drones to land and charge their batteries.
Designers say the temporary sites will help to ‘reduce congestion, cut air pollution, and contribute to a zero-carbon future’.
Coventry City Council and the UK Government have backed the proposals for the zero-emissions airport, which will be located next to the city’s Ricoh Arena.
Coventry’s pop-up airport for flying cars, air taxis and delivery drones: The Midlands city is set to be the first in the world to get a new site specifically designed for electric flying vehicles to land, charge and pick up passengers
Hyundai is pushing for the introduction of Air-One locations after it unveiled its own flying taxi called the S-A1 – designed in collaboration with Uber – a year ago, and intends to commercialise its own flying vehicles by 2028.
The ‘urban air mobility’ revolution is estimated to be worth almost £1trillion over the next 20 years as companies and authorities invest in Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft and the infrastructure required.
Air-One can be operated off-grid and can also be integrated with electric vehicles and sustainable public transport, the group of UK based design and ‘deeptech’ companies behind it claim.
As well as taking just days to put up, the design allows the airport to be easily dismantled and moved to alternative sites, as the air-mobility sector develops.
The Coventry site will be located in a former over-flow car park off the A444 next to the Ricoh Arena 32,609-seater stadium, which is owned by the Wasps Premiership rugby club and had been the home of Coventry City Football Club before a protracted rent dispute between the football club and former owners, Arena Coventry Limited.
The airport itself has a landing pad that’s 14 metres in diameter. That’s bigger than a traditional helipad, so means it can accommodate helicopters and any form of eVTOL.
It features an elevated platform. Once a vehicle has landed on it, the pad then moves down into the hanger.
The airport itself has a landing pad that’s 14 metres in diameter that, when a vehicle touches down on it, drops into a hanger where the it can be charged or take on passengers
Hyundai last year released this image of its visions for zero-emission air taxis of the future, featuring a compact airport design similar to the Air-One that’s due to be created in Coventry
Vehicles can then be pushed to different parts of the site, where they can be charged, cleaned, checked over for maintenance purposes and take on passengers.
There’s also a small lit runway.
Designers say the integrated hanger could also feature a book shop or a cafe.
Unveiling the Coventry site on Thursday morning, Pamela Cohn, chief operating officer for the Urban Air Mobility Division of Hyundai Motor Group, said: ‘As we advance our eVTOL aircraft programme, development of supporting infrastructure is imperative.
The Coventry site will be located in a former over-flow car park on the other side of the A444 next to the Ricoh Arena 32,609-seater stadium, which is owned by the Wasps Premiership rugby club and had been the home of Coventry City Football Club before a protracted rent dispute between the football club and former owners, Arena Coventry Limited.
‘Air-One is a unique project that is set to help lead the way in developing a robust, accessible and intermodal infrastructure network for future mobility.
‘We are excited to be part of this partnership in the UK and look forward to working together to create community impact and opportunity through safe, affordable, and human-centred mobility solutions.’
The airport – which is around 60 per cent smaller than a conventional heliport – will be the first of more than 200 zero emission sites Urban Air Port plans to install worldwide over the next five years.
Initially, the Coventry site will be used to help the public understand the new technology, with Malloy Aeronautics, a UK-based drone developer, demonstrating the use of large cargo drones at the airport.
As well as providing solutions for reducing congestion and emissions in urban environments, the design has been developed with disaster emergency management in mind.
The airports will become a hub for rapid deployment drones and eVTOLs that, when called upon, can quickly collect and transport emergency supplies, equipment and people where needed.
Flight hailing: This is the S-A1 concept electric air taxi, co-created as part of a new partnership between Uber and Hyundai
The vehicle’s cabin is designed with four passenger seats, allowing riders to board and disembark easily
Ricky Sandhu, founder and executive chairman of Urban Air Port, said: ‘Cars need roads. Trains need rails. Planes need airports. eVTOLs will need Urban Air Ports.
‘Over a hundred years ago, the world’s first commercial flight took off, creating the modern connected world.
‘Urban Air Port will improve connectivity across our cities, boost productivity and help the UK to take the lead in a whole new clean global economy.
‘Flying cars used to be a futuristic flight of fancy. Air-One will bring clean urban air transport to the masses and unleash a new airborne world of zero emission mobility.’
Coventry is one of the UK locations that’s been at the forefront of future vehicle projects in recent years, with the local university also being the home of the Institute for Future Transport and Cities (IFTC).
Previous drawings shared by Hyundai show its S-A1 concept vehicle at a vertical take off and landing pad
S-A1 is capable of vertical take-off and landing and is purposely designed for aerial ride-sharing purposes
It is designed for a cruising speed up to 180mph flying at an altitude of around 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground
Jaguar Land Rover – with also has its headquarters in the city – began trials of autonomous vehicle trials there in 2018 and more recently Coventry University took delivery of two self-driving vehicles in 2020 as part of research into the way drivers and vehicles interact.
Cllr Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, said: ‘We are already a city that is helping to shape the future of electric transport and this is yet another ground-breaking project that puts Coventry at the forefront of new technologies.
‘It highlights how the council is working alongside a range of organisations to help shape a better, greener future.’
Alongside investment from Hyundai, Urban Air Port has been awarded a £1.2 million grant from UK Research and Innovation’s Future Flight Challenge.
Gary Cutts, UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge Director, said: ‘Urban Air Port has the potential to revolutionise cities across the world, making them more connected, cleaner and accelerating our green economic recovery.
‘This project epitomises the purpose of the Future Flight Challenge fund – it is innovation at its finest – and will help to position the UK at the vanguard of electric urban air mobility.’
Hyundai’s plan for flying taxis unveiled a year ago
Uber and Hyundai in January 2020 announced plans to develop taxis of the future that will fly people to their destinations.
The US ride-hailing firm and Korean auto company unveiled a concept electric aircraft at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which is designed to fly on trips of up to 60 miles and has a cruising speed of up to 180 miles per hour.
In a joint statement made in Vegas last year, the two parties said: ‘Hyundai will produce and deploy the air vehicles, and Uber will provide airspace support services, connections to ground transportation, and customer interfaces through an aerial ride share network.’
A model of the Hyundai and Uber Elevate urban air taxi concept S-A1 was displayed during the Hyundai press conference at the 2020 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
The front seat is for the pilot, though both Uber and Hyundai are in agreement that it wants to create autonomous air taxis in the future
The electric concept Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) has been named S-A1.
It is capable of vertical take-off and landing and is purposely designed for aerial ride-sharing purposes.
It is designed for a cruising speed up to 180mph flying at an altitude of around 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground, and for trips up to 60 mile before needing to be charged.
The eVTOL is 100 per cent electric and can be recharged in five to seven minutes.
The electric source powers rotors and propellers around the airframe to increase safety by decreasing any single point of failure. Having several, smaller rotors also reduces noise relative to large rotor helicopters with combustion engines, which is very important to cities.
The S-A1 can be piloted, but over time the two companies say they want the air taxis to be autonomous.
The cabin is designed with four passenger seats, allowing riders to board and disembark easily and avoid the dreaded middle seat with enough space for a personal bag or backpack.
The Hyundai flying taxi is among many airborne cars under development, with the likes of Boeing designing similar vehicles.
However, all eVTOL projects face significant technological and regulatory hurdles before they can be brought to market.
The Hyundai vehicle will be 100% electric and can be charged in around five to seven minutes
The S-A1 concept is claimed to be able to take people on trips for up to 60 mile before needing to be charged
The model of the concept vehicle was the focal point of the Hyundai press conference ahead of CES 2020
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