Uber is planning to add another vehicle of the future to its fleet: flying cars.
Ride-hailing company Uber is well known for disrupting the taxi industry, and more recently for launching its self-driving car project in Pittsburgh and acquiring Otto with its autonomous trucking technology. The company has taken flying cars seriously enough to publish a white paper outlining its upcoming transport service, which the company has named Uber Elevate.
The company envisions journeys being made by a “network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically.” The end game will be to “use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground.”
Uber has no intentions of manufacturing these flying cars, which is the case with its passenger car ride-hailing services and commercial truck alliance with Otto. The Uber Elevate study looks at flying car concept aircrafts being developed by Zee.Aero, Joby Aviation, eHang, Terrafugia, and others.
Uber estimates the technology for these vehicles will mature within five years. However, the whitepaper acknowledges several hurdles, including battery technology, vehicle efficiency, vehicle performance and reliability, cost and affordability, safety, aircraft noise, emissions, takeoff and landing infrastructure, pilot training, air traffic control, and the certification process.
These technology challenges may be surmountable in the near future, but the regulatory hurdles will be steep to climb, according to the MIT Technology Review.
One challenge will be that vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have rarely been used outside military operations. Drone aircraft have been facing another hurdle to cross: air traffic control. The FAA anticipates getting rules for small, parcel-carrying drones sorted out by around 2020, and flying cars would still need to be addressed by the agency.
Uber acknowledges in the paper that flying cars are “new from a certification standpoint, and progress with certification of new aircraft concepts has historically been very slow.”
Uber believes that Elevate could be rolled out within the next five to 10 years. That may seem fantastical, but there are others who take it that seriously. Earlier this year, Google cofounder Larry Page invested in two flying-car companies; and as mentioned previously, there are several startup firms finding the necessary resources to potentially bring flying cars to market.