Sky’s the Limit? Uber Doesn’t Think So

Although the concept of a flying taxi service has been underway for a while now for the ride-sharing company, earlier this month Uber revealed additional plans for its commercial service dubbed UberAir.

At the Uber Elevate summit that took place earlier this month in Los Angeles, the ride-sharing company unveiled plans for its new commercial service called UberAir, otherwise known as a flying taxi service. In an attempt to tackle traffic and infrastructure issues, Uber hopes to put this concept to good use in heavily congested cities and has chosen the City of Angels as its second location where demonstration flights are expected to take place starting in 2020. Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai are also on the list of cities participating in the program.

The Jetsons? Not quite, but close enough

Flying cars? Well, not exactly. Uber revealed a clip of the self-driving aerial vehicle at the Web Summit in Lisbon in 2017, and how the flying taxi would actually work is no short of a utopic vision. In the demonstration video, the all-electric aircraft has the ability to take off and land vertically (VTOL system)—a fundamental requirement for this type of vehicle—and is awaiting passengers on what looks like a helipad. After the customer books the flight through the Uber app, she walks to the nearest helipad-equipped building, uses her smartphone to go through the turnstile and is weighed before boarding. Uber employees oversee the launch pad, of course, and assist passengers in boarding their flights. This all seems easy and rather practical, except the science behind it all is not quite there yet.

Uber has made strides with its flying taxi concept and has partnered with aircraft manufacturers such as Bell, Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel Aircraft and Mooney to design the vehicle. The company is also working with NASA and has teamed up with L.A. real estate company Sandstone Properties to develop rooftop launch pads. Mark Moore, a NASA veteran with 30 years of industry experience, led the team that designed the concept of the aircraft, called Common Reference Model. Uber hopes to unify the efforts of the companies working on the vehicle to get the aircraft it envisioned.

The future is here

Flights are projected to go from “node to node” rather than “point to point,” meaning there will be specific pick-up and drop-off points dubbed sky ports. The aerial vehicle is supposed to reach between 150 and 200 miles per hour, up to 2,000 feet above the ground. Uber expects the craft to require as little as five minutes to top up the batteries and a single charge is intended to last for about a 60-mile range. Furthermore, the flying taxi will come with a human pilot initially, but eventually, Uber plans to make the vehicle autonomous. This might be a bigger challenge than expected, considering self-driving cars and the mixed reviews they received.

As far as pricing goes, Uber has made it clear that catering to the rich is not this project’s purpose at all. Fares will be accessible—the company went as far as saying that fares will be so low that it will be cheaper to fly with Uber than owning a car. This all sounds appealing and it may seem widely futuristic, but how far are we really from a reality where traveling like the Jetsons becomes a daily routine?

Video courtesy of Uber