Uber aims to engineer an efficient urban air transport network, and that means no cupholders or seat-back pouches in its air taxis, the better to keep weight down and quickly deboard passengers so the next flight can take off within five minutes.
Uber unveiled a concept cabin interior Tuesday built by the French aerospace company Safran that’s spare, light and meant to provide a common look across the disparate vehicle types that are being developed for its planned electric air taxi fleet.
Initially the designers envisioned a much busier cabin, with flight information screens, charge points, cupholders and small storage spaces. Over seven prototypes, it all came out.
“We realized for an 8-minute flight, that’s all irrelevant,” says Ian Scoley, a vice president at Safran’s design and innovation studio in Huntington Beach, California.
In a full-scale mockup displayed at the Uber Elevate urban air mobility conference in Washington, D.C., the four seats are turned away from each other at 10-degree angles to reduce social awkwardness between passengers and the chance of arm contact, orienting them toward the view outside.
The seats are upholstered with aerospace-grade “ultra leather,” a tough, synthetic, low-friction material chosen to make it easy for passengers to slide across since they’ll enter from just one side of the vehicle, says John Badalamenti, head of design for Uber Elevate.
Adapted from Safran helicopter seats, they’re fixed and don’t recline—no need on an aircraft where passengers will be aboard for a maximum of 20 minutes, and the hardware would add weight. Bags won’t be stowed underneath seats since that space is a crumple zone.
Keeping weight down is a priority in all types of aircraft, but Uber’s plan to operate an all-electric fleet made that doubly important for the cabin designers given the low power density of batteries.
“Helicopters can brute force through a lot of things. We don’t have that luxury,” says Badalamenti. “The level of scrutiny against the weight of each component is much higher.”
There’s no lining in the interior, as airliners have—passengers see the backside of the structure of the vehicle. The windows are expansive, but not too big because window glass is heavier than the fuselage material.
A recessed strip of LED lighting around the roofline projects a white light when the doors are open for boarding and turns blue in flight mode.
There’s a narrow rear luggage compartment sized for standard carry-on bags: It can fit four rolling suitcases with a fold-down shelf for rucksacks.
Though the design is spare, the designers say it sets a benchmark for safety and privacy and contains elements with a design language that will knit together the disparate vehicles under development for the network by Boeing’s Aurora Flight Sciences, Embraer, Bell, Pipistrel and Karem. “The grab handles, the seatbelts, the shape of the headrests can be copy-pasted from one vehicle to the other,” says Scoley.
Just keep a tight grip on your coffee.