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Uber CEO Looks to Expand Beyond Cars With Flying Cars, Bike-Share

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【Summary】The Verge sat down with Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, to get the lowdown on where the ride-sharing giant is heading in the future.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jun 05, 2018 8:30 AM PT
Uber CEO Looks to Expand Beyond Cars With Flying Cars, Bike-Share

So far, 2018 has not been kind to Uber. The ride-sharing company made global headlines after one of its self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. Since then, the company has sold its ride-hailing services to a rival in Southeast Asia, had its testing in Arizona suspended, ended its self-driving operations in California, and permanently shut down operations in Arizona. Clearly, Uber isn't having a good year. 


In light of the recent changes, one would expect Uber to head in a new direction, which is exactly what CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wants to do. In a lengthy piece by The Verge, Khosrowshahi lays out the direction Uber looks to take in the future after the unfortunate incident. 


Uber VTOL.jpg


Uber Looks To Expand Beyond Cars


Regardless of what happens with the investigation, Khosrowshahi wants Uber to be about more things than just cars. While that might sound odd for a ride-sharing company, the CEO wants to make Uber into a multi-modal company that focuses on car rentals, flying taxis, buses, and bikes. 


"I quickly realized in coming here that the future of Uber couldn't be just about cars," Khosrowshahi told the outlet. 


The most intriguing part of Uber's future has to be logic behind flying vehicles. Other companies are focusing solely on perfecting autonomous vehicles, but Uber's setting its sights on the road and the sky. When asked on what aspect of flying cars is worth chasing after, Khosrowshahi claimed that it was about broadening the company's scope. 


"That ultimately we had to expand our scope from cars to broader mobility," he said. "And that cars in two dimensions were at some point going to run out of scope for cities. And that we have to really think about the solution in three dimensions and with multi-modal [options]." 


Taking cars to the skies would fix a little of issues, but it would also cause a lot more. Individuals wealthy enough to afford a ride in a flying vehicle would bypass any and all traffic, but prices would eventually come down then the sky would be just as congested as roads. That, though, is still a long way in the distance and a pessimistic outlook on the technology. 


Uber's timeline for getting its something in the air is quite aggressive. As The Verge points out, the company wants to start testing a machine in 2020 and have a commercial product in the air by 2023. While that seems like a goal to work towards and not something that the company would hold itself to, Khosrowshahi really does believe that the brand can meet its timeline. 


"And so far the answer has been yes," he said. "We've got a number of partners that are pushing hard. They understand the potential here and what we're doing, which is super interesting." 


Uber Elevate NASA.jpg


Are Flying Cars A Smart Decision?


The Verge also questioned Uber's decision to chase flying vehicles. The outlet pointed towards individuals that are well versed in the world of transportation that don't think taking to the sky is a solution to getting people around. While the company is experimenting with high-capacity vehicles in other parts of the world, it believes that exploring multiple modalities is the only solution. 


"But when we talk about Uber being your point A-to-B platform, we do believe that buses are going to play a part in that," said Khosrowshahi. "We don't have to build the full vertical stack, so to speak, and Elevate is a perfect example of that. We're not building it ourselves." 


For a company that lost $4.5 billion last year, chasing after flying vehicles may not seem like the best use of resources. But Khosrowshahi believes that the fact Uber doesn't own its vehicles plays a major role in being able to afford exploring the tech. 


"So from a capital standpoint, we don't know where the capital is going to come from, but we don't think that this model necessitates our being the capital provider," he said.  


Funds may play a large factor in bringing flying vehicles to the market, but safety, especially in light of recent incidents, is sure to play a large role. To make its machines as safe as possible, Uber is looking to get the FAA and NASA's input on its vehicles early in the development process. 


"We're not trying to create things from scratch," said Khosrowshahi. "We're hoping to develop this thing and this is where there's a little bit of pressure. We're hoping to develop this product and move it to scale at faster development cycles than aviation is used to. But we don't want to make a trade-off in safety." 


The flying-car service won't be pilotless from the get-go either, but it could evolve into an autonomous form of transportation.  


Uber Jump.jpg


Uber Wants To Become A One-Stop Shop


Moving away from flying cars and into the world of bicycles, Uber purchased Jump, a dockless e-bike service for roughly $200 million earlier this April, which is another aspect of its plan to make a multi-modal world. In the ideal Uber-filled future, Khosrowshahi wants people to use their Jump bicycle to the Skyport – a location where it will dock its flying cars – and get a ride on its Elevate – its flying taxi service – to your destination. Instead of having to use multiple companies to get around, Uber's hoping that its one-stop-shop deal will become popular, as it's smoother and more convenient. 


Don't expect Uber to become transparent, though, as that's not high on Khosrowshahi's list of things to do. Instead, he's focused on getting things right, especially when it comes to autonomous testing. At the moment, Khosrowshahi's is doing a top-to-bottom review of the Advanced Technologies Group team. He's hoping to "uncover every choice that we have, every potential that we have, to be able to get back on the road." 


It's been a tough road for Uber to get to where it currently is, but it doesn't look like the path is going to get easier, especially as the company is looking to branch out to other modes of transportation. Whether Uber's decision to be more than just a ride-hailing company will backfire remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure, it will have to make sure that everything's working properly and safety before attempting to branch out. 

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