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SLO company collaborating with NASA, Uber on electric aircraft

Posted at 6:42 PM, Dec 10, 2018

A San Luis Obispo company is changing the face of flight.

Most modern planes are powered by jet fuel, but Empirical Systems Aerospace (ES Aero) is looking to replace that with electric batteries.

Thanks to a possible deal with Uber, you may soon be able to hail one of these energy-efficient planes.

“We’re doing a lot of work on electric aviation, including supporting the electric VTOL market,” explained ES Aero President Andrew Gibson.

Even after gaining customers like Lockheed Martin and NASA, the team made up of mostly Cal Poly grads, attributes a lot of their success to luck.

“A lot of it’s just dumb luck. We started here in San Luis Obispo because we didn’t want to leave San Luis Obispo, which is how a lot of companies end up in San Luis Obispo,” Gibson said.

The ES Aero team is currently working on their X-57 aircraft with NASA.

“The original goals in the program were to show a five times energy efficiency improvement at cruise. That has slowly evolved throughout the program to also working with the electric community, both those that are building vehicles and those that are making the rules to how do we make vehicles like this safe,” explained Vice President Trevor Foster.

The team is hoping to use this aircraft to demonstrate the feasibility of using electric propulsion as a way to power planes.

“It’s enabling more green transportation. It’s enabling hybrid electric airliners, hybrid electric transporters that have up to 30, 40, and 50 percent reductions in fuel and reductions into the atmosphere,” Gibson said.

Their most notable partnership may be their collaboration with Uber.

“Things like Uber Air that have the hopes of transporting people up to 60 miles,” Gibson said.

That means, in addition to being able to call an Uber to drive you across town, ES Aero is helping design the aircraft that will allow commuters to catch flights, as well.

“Much of the technologies you’ll see here are helping to support that burgeoning market. We’ve supported Uber Air with some design analysis services and they happen to be located right here in San Luis Obispo alongside ES Aero,” Gibson explained.

Uber has several hurdles to jump through before “Uber Elevate” can launch.

Once the aircraft are up and running, Uber’s website claims rides will initially cost around $129, with long-term goals of dropping that price to about $20 depending on the location.

“Much of what we’re trying to do is focus on manufacturing; manufacturing and certification of these electric technologies for aviation. The Uber Air model calls for tens of thousands of these things. Much like there’s hundreds of thousands if not millions of Uber drivers driving their own vehicles on the ground, there will be tens of thousands potential Uber Air vehicles flying in the air,” Gibson said.

Uber’s CEO plans to launch “Uber Elevate” in Dallas and Los Angeles by 2023.