Apr 15, 2019

Uber is still eyeing flying cars

A model of Uber's electric vehicle takeoff. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

Uber's IPO prospectus highlights $457 million in spending last year on its Advanced Technologies Group and other initiatives, including the flying car program called Uber Elevate: "Our initial efforts through Uber Elevate focus on shared air transportation between suburbs and cities, with the goal of ultimately addressing air transportation within cities."

The big picture: Flying electric cars could play a "niche role" in sustainable transportation, but using them for short commutes would not be climate-friendly, a recent study in Nature Communications concludes.

Why it matters: In addition to Uber, companies including Boeing are developing vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (VTOLs). Deployment timelines are uncertain, but it's no longer a distant fantasy.

  • University of Michigan and Ford researchers compared emissions from hypothetical VTOLs with ground-based cars.

What they found: Trip length matters a lot. VTOLs use lots of energy to gain altitude, but then run more efficiently.

  • For trips of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, a VTOL with a pilot and 3 passengers would generate 52% fewer emissions per "passenger kilometer" than an internal combustion car and 6% less than an EV. (That result assumes 1.54 occupants per ground car.)
  • Overall, VTOLs are better than gas-powered cars for trips of around 22 miles or more. But for the average commute of around 11 miles, it doesn't make sense from a climate standpoint.
  • The LA Times has a good look here.

What they're saying: "The implications are we shouldn't use VTOLs for urban taxis, but rather for longer trips inside or outside of a metropolitan area," Carnegie Mellon University's Costa Samaras, who was not involved in the study, tells Axios.

  • He notes internal combustion cars sold today will be around for 20 years, and believes VTOLs for some passenger and freight uses will arrive in that window.
  • "[W]e should be thinking about policies to encourage sustainability, safety, and livability with urban air mobility systems pretty soon," he said in an email.

Go deeper: A sky full of driverless flying cars in just a decade

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Texas oil regulators poised to debate historic production controls

Workers extracting oil from oil wells in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas. Photo: Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images

Texas oil regulators are likely to hold a hearing this month on whether to take the historic step to curb the state’s oil production amid a global market collapse fueled by the coronavirus.

Driving the news: Ryan Sitton, one of three commissioners of the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees state oil production, told Axios that a hearing will likely be held soon in response to a renewed request earlier Monday from two oil companies to limit production as one way to stem the steep slide in global oil prices.

More states issue stay-at-home orders as coronavirus crisis escalates

Data: Axios reporting; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser issued stay-at-home orders on Monday, with exceptions for residents engaged in essential services, including health care and government functions. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a similar directive on Monday evening.

The big picture: The states and territory are the latest to announce policies to enforce social distancing, which have affected almost 250 million Americans. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide had been asked to stay home as of last week.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 24 mins ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: 3 out of 4 Americans forced to stay home

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

At least 30 state governors and the District to Columbia have ordered their residents to stay home to promote social distancing and limit community spread from the coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: Those states account for about 3/4 of the American population, the N.Y. Times notes. More cities like Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, are reporting an influx of cases, prompting states to take stronger actions.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 45 mins ago - Health