Uber wants to go beyond picking you up in a car to become a “mobility” company. That means anything you want to move, by any means, is fair game for its ambitions. The most sci-fi aspect of that is the Uber Elevate program to deploy electric air taxi service by 2023—and eventually make those flying vehicles autonomous.
One key aspect that is currently science fiction: a battery pack that can safely power those taxis for at least 60 miles and get refreshed in five-minute bursts to extend the range even further. No packs currently exist that can both carry enough energy for a plane flight that long and also provide the burst of power required for its straight-up-and-down takeoff and landing. So Uber has decided to invent its own packs under the leadership of Tesla’s former battery guru, Celina Mikolajczak (whom I recently interviewed).
This is a departure for Elevate, whose model is to contract with other companies, such as Bell Helicopter and Embraer, to develop the craft that ferry its passengers. While those contractors will still build most of each plane, the battery engineering will come from Uber.
“We want to make sure that our partners have access to a pack that meets our safety, reliability, performance, and lifetime targets,” Mikolajczak told Fast Company in an email. The planes its partners are building can fly with current technology, according to Uber, but not with the range and recharge times the upcoming service, called UberAir, will need to succeed. Existing tech will suffice for demonstrations, slated to start in 2020. Uber aims to have the sci-fi batteries ready in time for a full commercial launch in 2023.