Uber is taking ridesharing to the sky and it’s not a ‘Back to the Future’ parody.The company announced Tuesday that it plans to roll out a network of flying cars in Dallas-Fort Worth and, of course, Dubai by 2020.
The flying electric taxis are being developed with aviation companies including Embraer and Bell Helicopter. While the technology is largely unproven, Uber believes the service will eventually cost about the same as its car rides.
The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling customers through the air—electric, with vertical takeoff and landing capability, and capable of flying 100 miles in just 40 minutes—don’t exist yet. Nor does the infrastructure to support them. The FAA, an agency not known for speed, must ensure these aircraft meet all federal safety regulations and figure out where and how they fit into a complex air traffic control system. Uber will face these many challenges as they try to get from the road to the sky in 3 years.
In a statement, Uber said the goal was to “enable customers in the future to push a button and get a high-speed flight in and around cities.”
At its “Uber Elevate” summit Tuesday, the company announced a series of partnerships to start figuring this out. It has joined real estate companies Hillwood Properties in Texas and Dubai Holding in the UAE to identify locations for “vertiports” and get them built. Chargepoint, which operates 34,000 electric vehicle charging spots in North America and Australia, will design, develop, and deploy the infrastructure needed to keep the aircraft going. In a white paper Uber published in October, the company estimated it would need 1,000 aircraft and 83 vertiports, with 12 charging spots apiece, to serve three or four cities.
Uber is already investing heavily in self-driving cars and is facing an intellectual property lawsuit over that technology. No longer content with its land-based ride service, the company believes its vision for flying taxis will make air transportation a part of our daily lives in the future.
But it will first need to convince passengers and aviation authorities that the technology is safe, and there are still huge questions over how to regulate both the testing and introduction of the technology.