Uber signed a second Space Act Agreement with NASA to develop models that will simulate urban air mobility service. It’s a sign that Uber is interested in working closely with government regulators as it seeks to get its ambitious flying taxi project off the ground. The announcement was made during Uber’s second annual Elevate conference, which was held in Los Angeles. LA and Dallas are the two cities that have agreed to host early tests of Uber’s air taxi service.
The flying cars, which the company hopes to introduce to riders in two to five years, will conduct vertical takeoffs and landings from skyports, air stations on rooftops or the ground. Ultimately, company officials say these skyports will be equipped to handle 200 takeoffs and landings an hour, or one every 24 seconds. At first, the flying cars will be piloted, but the company aims for the aircraft to fly autonomously.
The prototypes look more like drones than helicopters, with four rotors on wings. Company officials say that will make them safer than choppers, which operate on one rotor. They’ll fly 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground and will be quieter than a helicopter, producing half the noise of a truck driving past a house.
In a speech at the Web Summit in Lisbon last year, Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden announced that the company is adding a third city, Los Angeles, to its list of places where it hopes to pilot its aerial taxi service by 2020. LA joins Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai as cities announced to be working with Uber on the program.
Holden predicts that fares will be so low, it will actually be cheaper to fly with Uber than own your own car. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s long been the company’s mission to bring about the end of personal car ownership. An aerial taxi service would just be another tool in the toolkit toward that end.
When you step back and look at what Uber is proposing, it’s truly staggering. Tens of thousands of flights per day. Electric, autonomous aircraft buzzing from rooftop to rooftop. Trips costing as little as $20. It’s fairly blue-sky thinking, even for a company that regularly imbibes its own Kool-Aid. The runway isn’t clear yet, but Uber is convinced its path forward will be free of turbulence.
As you can see, it’s all very utopian. A passenger books the flight through her Uber app, and then ascends to a “skyport” on the roof of a nearby building. She badges through a turnstile using her smartphone — security is non-existent in this futuristic vision — and is briefly weighed to make sure she’s not too portly for Uber’s weight-conscious flying taxis.