In just under a decade, Uber has revolutionized the taxi service which had remained largely unchanged for the last 50 years. Besides launching a fleet of self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh – which is pretty amazing in itself – the company now plans to take its services to the skies. That’s right, we’re all going to be zipping around like the Jetsons.
The company plans to make this happen pretty soon, in the next decade. This sounds a little too good to be true, but we’re not about to tell the Uber folks to stop dreaming big. The plans are laid out in a 99-page document that presents Uber’s project called Elevate: an on-demand aircraft that will take off and land vertically. The company is also planning for the vehicles to have a cruising speed of around 200 mph, cutting a two-hour slog from San Francisco to San Jose down to just 15 minutes.
Now before you start moaning about how expensive it will probably be, we have more good news. Uber wants to make the service just as affordable as an Uber X ride, with an “estimated long-term cost of around $25 for 50 miles of travel.” While this all sounds fantastic, one big issue has to be addressed: where are these non-existent flying cars going to come from?
People have been fantasying about flying cars for nearly a century, but so far we haven’t come close to making something that looks remotely like them. Uber won’t be building the car themselves, but the company has a number of potential partners ranging from NASA to California-based Joby Aviation and German company eVolo to help make flying-taxis a reality.
The plans for the flying Uber detail an aircraft that looks very much like a drone, with a passenger pod sitting on top. Jeff Holden, head of Uber products, predicts the aircraft will be battery-powered. Such a feature would be impossible for a commercial jet because of weight, but is much more feasible for slower and lighter aircrafts.
Creating a battery-powered drone to transport people might actually be the easiest part of Uber’s ambitious goal. The real trick to pull off will be to find a way to avoid being grounded by the red tape. It’s one thing to launch a new kind of aircraft, but it’s a whole other one to have them carting civilians around. How Uber will address Federal Aviation Administration protocol is yet to be seen, but will most certainly pose a challenge for the company. Uber does have FAA guidelines on its side though; since the 1990s, the private market has been allowed to present plans for new aircrafts which are then altered and approved by the FAA.
Oh, and if you’re an Uber driver who would like to make the switch to Uber pilot, don’t hold your breath. Though the Uber drones will likely be automated with the pilot simply punching in the destination, local governments aren’t likely to make operator regulations easy on the company.
While flying taxis might be a ways off, the idea that you’ll one day be able to summon a flying Uber should provide solace next time you’re stuck in a never-ending security line at the airport.