If Uber is to get its “flying taxi” service off the ground, it will need dozens of launchpads and landing sites on rooftops around cities as a supportive infrastructure. At the ride-hailing company’s second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles, six architecture firms presented their winning designs of what these so-called “Skyports” could look like. And holy cow, these things look straight out of Star Wars.
The “Sky Tower” by Pickard Chilton and Arup wouldn’t look out of place among the Star Destroyers and Dreadnoughts of the Galactic Empire (or the First Order, depending on your trilogy). The beehive-esque “Uber Hover” concept by Humphreys & Partners could easily pass for an Ewok village on Endor. BOKA Powell’s “Skyport Prototype” looks like it’s ready to take flight and begin doing battle with a swarm of TIE Fighters.
It’s clear these architects and engineers wanted to embrace some element of retro-futurism when approaching their Skyport designs. That makes a lot of sense, considering the whole idea of “flying cars” was once the exclusive property of magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science and television shows like The Jetsons. Now, we can add “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” to that.
As part of Uber’s design competition, the proposed Skyports needed to support transport of more than 4,000 passengers per hour within a three-acre footprint, as well as meet noise and environmental requirements. They also needed to ensure that electric-powered aircraft were able to recharge between trips with minimal impact to nearby communities. There were no requirements about droid recharging, however. (How rude.)
Some of the designs aim to retrofit existing buildings with landing pads, to help keep costs low and improve the project’s chances of scaling citywide. But most of the firms let their imaginations run wild as they sought to conceptualize what a futuristic “flying taxi” service would look like.
Humphreys & Partners naturalistic “beehive” design (above) accommodates 900 passengers per level, per hour and uses sustainable materials to create an ecosystem that powers itself and “gives back to the surrounding area,” the firm says.
Pickard Chilton (above) took the idea of Uber’s “Elevate” project literally in designing a structure the rises dozens of stories into the air. A single module in this towering Skyport allows for 180 landings and takeoffs per hour, accommodating 1,800 peak passengers every hour per module. The firm says that modules can be combined both vertically and horizontally to allow the Skyport to adapt to the city landscape.
BOKA Powell said its design can accommodate 1,000 takeoffs and landings. The structure is flexible to allow for wind change and can support an average takeoff of fewer than three minutes.
Gannett Fleming calls its design “the Paw,” and it’s not hard to see why. The design would support 52 electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles per hour, per module in a scalable framework that could facilitate more than 600 arrivals and departures and 4,000 people per hour by 2028.
Corgan’s sprawling design could be built over established highway networks to “repurpose existing and familiar infrastructure and create new travel arteries that can accommodate the higher throughput required of mass adoption,” the firm says.
The Beck Group also took inspiration from bee colonies in its design. Its Skyport concept would be flexible and scalable to accommodate 150 takeoffs and landings per hour and can be scaled to up to 1,000 trips per hour.
John Badalamenti, Uber’s head of design for advanced programs and aviation, called the designs a “culmination of hundreds of designers and engineers that have created dozens of designs for a highly efficient and modular Skyport.” He added, “While uberAIR might feel like a far away dream, it’s closer than you think and urban infrastructure has to start to evolve now to keep up.”