Uber to launch ‘flying cars’ in 2020
Uber’s ‘flying cars’ project Elevate came whizzing back recently with a number of key announcements about where it will first appear, who will be working on it, and how this futuristic service will look when it ultimately takes off.
In a speech at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday, Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden announced that the company is adding a third city, Los Angeles, to its list of places where it hopes to pilot its aerial taxi service by 2020. LA joins Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai as cities announced to be working with Uber on the program.
Holden also said that Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage these low-flying, possibly autonomous aircraft. And to round it all out, Uber released a glossily produced video to demonstrate what using its aerial taxi service would look like from the perspective of a working mom who just wants to get home to her kids.
As you can see, it’s all very utopian. A passenger books the flight through her Uber app, and then ascends to a “skyport” on the roof of a nearby building. She badges through a turnstile using her smartphone — security is non-existent in this futuristic vision — and is briefly weighed to make sure she’s not too portly for Uber’s weight-conscious flying taxis.
Smiling agents wearing headsets, goggles, and Uber-branded vests lead her and several other passengers across the roof to their awaiting aircraft, which appears to be a plane-helicopter hybrid with fixed wings and tilt prop-rotors. Despite the presence of these whirling blades, no-one’s hair moves at all. During the flight, she looks out of the window with pity at all the poor souls stuck in traffic below, as she is whisked through the clouds to her gorgeous, perfect family waiting at home. The closing tagline: “Closer than you think.”
How much closer?
Uber first introduced its plan to bring ride-sharing to the skies in a white paper last year, but the project still faces significant hurdles. The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling passengers from rooftop to rooftop — electric, autonomous, with the ability to take off and land vertically (also known as VTOL, pronounced vee-tol) — don’t exist yet, nor does the infrastructure to support such a vehicle. Experts suggest that engineering and regulatory hindrances will likely prevent flying cars from ever taking off in a meaningful way.
Which is not to say flying cars aren’t having a moment. At least 19 companies are developing flying-car plans. These include legacy manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, and small startups like Kitty Hawk, owned by Google founder Larry Page. Meanwhile, Uber has made significant strides in partnering with a handful of aircraft manufacturers, real estate firms, and regulators to better its chances of developing a fully functional, on-demand flying taxi service.
Credit: The Verge