Is it a car? Is it a plane? It’s hard not to get excited about Uber’s air taxi, its vision of the future for commuters and travellers. Last week at the third Uber Elevate Summit 2019 in Washington, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing app that has revolutionised short hops on the ground took part in some blue-sky thinking by unveiling its first air taxi cabin design. The future service, already given the name Uber Air, centres on an electric vehicle called North Star that has a cabin seating four passengers. Uber revealed earlier this month that its Uber Copter service in New York would allow users to book journeys by helicopter flight. The company says it will conduct flight demonstrations for Uber Air in 2020 and that its aerial ride-sharing service will be commercially available in 2023. The first Uber Air cities will be Frisco in Texas and Los Angeles in California. Created in collaboration with the California-based aircraft interiors company Safran Cabin, North Star is one of many concepts of how an air taxi could look. “Through the process with Uber, we had six full-scale mock-ups, with multiple iterations in each one, looking at the seats, liners and window positioning,” said Scott Savian, Safran Cabin’s executive vice-president of its design and innovation studio Zeo. “We do not want any excess weight or cost, but the mission also requires safety, a comfortable user experience, and a seamlessness of all the user interactions. So while the cabin may be minimal in some ways, it’s absolutely purpose built to the mission.” Didi opens the door to rivals as super app fight hots up North Star is a message to developers of eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) vehicles about the kind of “shared air taxi” Uber Air will require. All eVTOL vehicles lift off vertically, hover and fly for about 80km (50 miles), then land. They’re designed to beat traffic for short journeys and airport transfers. North Star is more electric helicopter than “flying car”, but Uber and Safran Cabin are far from the only ones imagining what the future of “on-demand urban air mobility” might look like. The “flying taxis” of the future are (almost) here – and some of them do not even have drivers. They are really attempts to make cheap electric-powered helicopters that can fly short hops without making too much noise. Here are six more exciting examples of eVTOL models currently on the drawing board that might one day take to the skies. All are already partnered with Uber Elevate to produce eVTOL designs, so any one of these could end up flying as an Uber Air taxi: Boeing Next Aurora This could well be a future Uber Air vehicle. In January, Boeing Next completed a test flight of an electrically propelled autonomous passenger air vehicle (PAV). Aurora is the work of Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, a partner of Uber. Bell Nexus Bell, another partner of Uber, has already shown off its own eVTOL, a modular system consisting of a hybrid electric propulsion-powered frame and a series of pods that attach to it. However, Bell is planning for lift-off in 2025, so will miss the initial launch of Uber Air. Jaunt Air Mobility Also just revealed to be in talks with Uber is Jaunt Air Mobility, a Florida-based aerospace company that plans to test its prototype “flying taxi” at the end of 2020. Its key technology is reduced rotor operating speed aircraft (ROSA), which allows its flying machine to hover and cruise at least 50 per cent quieter than helicopters. EmbraerX Brazilian aerospace conglomerate Embraer just announced a new electric flying vehicle concept. Few details are available, but the company did say that the EmbraerX will have an eight rotor system, which means less noise, and will be “progressively autonomous”, so will eventually lose the pilot. Embraer wants to “achieve a quiet, green and safe aerial ride-sharing vehicle”, according to Mark Moore, engineering director of aviation at Uber. Pipistrel 801 Pipistrel Vertical Solutions from Slovenia has a multi-fan electric winged plane that takes five passengers and can fly at 175mph (282km/h) for 60 miles. It also includes “sense-and-avoid” technology to avoid collisions. Karem Butterfly The eVTOL craze is all about making fixed-wing aircraft hover, but as quietly as possible to make them socially acceptable. Already a supplier of aircraft to the US Army, California-based Karem Aircraft has developed Butterfly, a quad-tilt-rotor aircraft with four large rotor blades that require less power than similar rotors, therefore making less noise.