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Uber Reveals Plan to Take Ridesharing to the Skies via Flying Cars

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【Summary】The ridesharing giant’s plan involves launching a fleet of flying cars, which will serve as taxis for busy commuters. In a newly released white paper, titled “Elevate,” the brand offers a rare glimpse of its latest moonshot project.

Original Michael Cheng    Nov 06, 2016 10:25 PM PT
Uber Reveals Plan to Take Ridesharing to the Skies via Flying Cars

The concept of autonomous cars is still fairly new. Car manufacturers, experts and lawmakers are currently in the process of creating the foundation of the nascent sector. Uber, a company pioneering both ridesharing and self-driving industries, in a move to separate itself from other competitors, announced a new plan to once again disrupt the transportation service market. 

The ridesharing giant's plan involves launching a fleet of flying cars, which will serve as taxis for busy commuters. In a newly released white paper, titled "Elevate," the brand offers a rare glimpse of its latest moonshot project. The author of the paper lays out the challenges of on-demand aviation, along with insights surrounding its benefits, compared to traditional road-based cars that rely on heavy (and extremely costly) infrastructure.

"The development of infrastructure to support an urban VTOL network will likely have significant cost advantages over heavy-infrastructure approaches such as roads, rail, bridges and tunnels," said the company.

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On-demand Aviation

Uber plans to roll out its flying cars by 2021. Many groups question the feasibility of the five-year timeline, considering that other similar technologies, like EVs, augmented reality and autonomous cars, have yet to reach mainstream status. The type of flying car that the company is developing is not your typical private aircraft. First, Uber wants the vessels to be fully electric. This would actually be possible, because the planes will be smaller and slower than a 150-passenger jet. Moreover, the company's engineers intend to develop Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities for the aircrafts, allowing them to take off and land straight up (or down) into the air like a helicopter approaching or leaving a helipad.

Without a runway, costs for developing infrastructure are significantly lower. Uber's fleet of flying cars could operate on existing helipads located on buildings, parking garages and spacious land. Compared to traditional helicopters, the new class of VTOL vessels offer quiet functionality, which is ideal for use in congested cities. The brand also plans to incorporate autonomous technology in the aircrafts to improve safety during operation.

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Barrier-to-Entry Challenges

Like the self-driving car sector, Uber must address major challenges that go beyond the development of cost-effective, zero-emission VTOL vessels. During production, the aircrafts are required to comply with regulators (US Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] and European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA]), which in the past, was widely known to be a slow, painstaking process. Additionally, the company needs a group of commercial pilots to operate the aircrafts. Acquiring the necessary skills and credentials to fly a plane requires up to 500 hours of pilot-in-command experience for VFR and up to 1,200 hours for IFR (FAR Part 135). This may slow down Uber's ability to scale its ridesharing ambitions for its fleet of VTOL vessels.

"Rather than manufacture VTOL hardware ourselves, we instead look to collaborate with vehicle developers, regulators, city and national governments, and other community stakeholders, while bringing to the table a very fertile market of excited consumers and a clear vehicle and operations use case," explained the company in the white paper.

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