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Uber partner Bell shows off air taxi concept

By Koh Wanzi - on 10 Jan 2019, 9:32pm

Uber partner Bell shows off air taxi concept

Bell Nexus

The Bell Nexus is huge. That's the first thing you notice when you see it in the flesh. It has six large tilting ducted fans, where a fan is mounted within a cylindrical shroud or duct, and can seat up to five people. 

It's more helicopter than taxi, and can take off and land vertically from a rooftop or some other launchpad. However, it's actually intended for use as an air taxi, and if all goes according to plan, the Nexus could soar over a few major markets by the middle of 2020. There's just one caveat though, and that's the fact that Uber's air taxi service limited to all-electric VTOL aircraft, which would presumably exclude the Nexus, which uses a hybrid-electric propulsion system.

On Uber's end, it aims to have commercial aircraft available for use by 2023. 

The Texas-based Bell is an aircraft manufacturer at heart. It has decades of experience in making commercial and military vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, expertise which translates directly into making these futuristic-sounding air taxis. 

After Uber announced in 2016 its plan to create a network of flying taxis in cities to relieve the logjam on the streets, Bell was one of its first partners. The Nexus is its first concept design, and its hybrid-electric propulsion system helps it fly further and bear more weight. 

Bell Nexus

The latter part is important because Bell isn't ruling out other use cases for the Nexus. If the air taxi thing doesn't pan out, it could still use the Nexus for logistics operations or even work with the military.

The Nexus on display at CES is just a scale model, but it looks pretty impressive nevertheless. It was also designed to be accessible and reassuring. For instance, the fans are hidden in ducts, which should help ease some of the safety concerns that rotating helicopter blades pose. 

Flying cars are also on the radar of many manufacturers. No fewer than 19 companies are working on flying cars, including names like Airbus and Boeing. However, there are many infrastructural and regulatory obstacles to overcome in the meanwhile, and it's difficult to say if the industry will ever really take off. 

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