Uber looks to flying cars as next big shift

While most of the auto industry is focused on getting self-driving cars rolling, Uber already has its eyes set to the skies. Literally.

In a white paper published this week, the company detailed plans for Uber Elevate, its new division for offering rides through flying cars.

The company hopes to have the program up and running within the next ten years.

In addition to being incredibly cool, Uber stresses the many benefits of this method of transportation in this new mode of transportation, time saving being the biggest.

"Imagine traveling from San Francisco’s Marina to work in downtown San Jose—a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours—in only 15 minutes," writes Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer, and Nikhil Goel, the company's product manager for Uber Elevate and advanced programs in the white paper.

"What if you could save nearly four hours round-trip between São Paulo’s city center and the suburbs in Campinas? Or imagine reducing your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes."

Plus with more people in the air, the company anticipates it loosening the burden on the roads, particularly in heavily congested areas.

The company acknowledges that there are challenges for getting this project off the ground. As opposed to using helicopters, which are expensive and noisy, the company will instead be relying on VTOLs, or "a network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically."

The VTOLs are cheaper and quieter, and their electronic basis also mean they will better for the environment than the gas powered helicopters. Battery technology still needs to improve, and as these are flying vehicles the company notes there will need to be some air traffic control mechanism in place. These vehicles also will need properly trained pilots at the control, at least until they too become self-driving.

 

Plus there's the economics. This type of flying aircraft, which is already being developed by a variety of companies including Joby Aviation, Zee.Aero and Airbus, will be pricey initially, though Uber anticipates that with scale it will drop. For the consumer, it sees prices starting out high but dropping over time thanks to its Uber Pool system.

A 45-mile pool VTOL, for example, would replace a 60-mile car ride for potentially as low as $21. And the trek would only be 15 minutes.

The company is planning an Elevate Summit for early next year to further set the wheels in motion.

As for timing, the company hopes to have vehicles ready within the next five years, with fleets deploying over the following five years after that. In the interim, well, there's always those more traditional self-driving Uber cars.


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