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Forget sedans and SUVs, Hyundai wants to develop its own flying taxis

Some of the world’s most prominent companies seem to think Back to the Future was a documentary. From Airbus to Uber, a growing number of companies are to develop flying taxis. Now Hyundai is launching its own flying taxi division, and the Korean automaker has chosen NASA veteran Dr. Jaiwon Shin to lead it.

Shin is an engineer who most recently led NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. Over 11 years in that position, he oversaw research into new aviation technologies at the space agency, a Hyundai press release said. During his tenure, Shin oversaw projects such as an experimental supersonic X-Plane, aircraft electrification, and advanced air traffic control, according to Hyundai.

“The new team at Hyundai will develop core technologies that will establish the company as a driving force in urban air mobility, a sector that is expected to grow into a market worth $1.5 trillion within the next 20 years,” Shin said in a statement.

Hyundai didn’t offer any other details on what form its air mobility division will take. Both large companies and startups are developing aircraft that resemble giant drones, with a series of rotors mounted on arms above the passenger compartment. Electric power and the capability for autonomous flying are often discussed as well. The general consensus is that these vehicles will be used in cities as an alternative to current earthbound taxis and ridesharing services. Imagine hailing an Uber and getting a flying car instead of the usual Toyota Camry.

Implementing this vision of the future will require not only developing the aircraft themselves, but also an air traffic control system that can handle potentially hundreds of vehicles zipping about over major cities. Regulations will also have to be rewritten to accommodate flying taxis and ensure safety, something that has proven difficult even for the limited number of helicopters currently cruising urban skies.

This isn’t the first time Hyundai has dabbled in vehicles outside its normal cars. At CES 2019, the company unveiled a walking car called the Elevate. Able to walk on four legs, Hyundai envisioned the Elevate as a way for first responders to get over rough terrain. But the Elevate was designed more for getting attention at CES than real-world use. Hyundai’s flying taxi project seems like a more serious effort on the part of the company.

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