When you think of flying cars, you might picture something out of The Fifth Element or Harry Potter. They may have an air of sci-fi about them but, according to Uber, it won’t be long until they become a reality. In fact, they could be in the sky by 2020. Uber announced its plans to introduce a pay-as-you-go flying car service in a white paper last year. The new program is called “Uber Elevate”. Jeff Holden, head of product at Uber, told audiences at the Web Summit, held in Portugal, that the company will be adding Los Angeles to its list of guinea pig cities. Angelenos could be jetting around in helicopter-style vehicles within the next three years. Its one of the most congested cities in the world today, Holden said. They essentially have no mass transit infrastructure. This type of approach allows us to very inexpensively deploy a mass transit method that actually doesnt make traffic worse. So, how would this scheme work? As you would when ordering a regular Uber, you would order your flying taxi on the Uber app. Then you would make your way up to a “skyport” on top of a nearby building. It will involve passing through turnstiles (a feature on the app will let you through) and being weighed (to make sure you’re not too heavy for the vehicle). Still seems a bit far-fetched? Well, there are 19 other companies currently developing flying cars. Theres been a great deal of progress thats been hard to see from the outside,” Holden said. “Its been a really interesting process getting our vehicle manufacturing partners aligned with performance specifications, so that theyre building vehicles that align with what we need to make Elevate successful.” But it’s going to be expensive, right? Holden promises it won’t: “Thats not Ubers MO.” If were doing this, you have to believe that were going to get the price very low, he said. Cheap enough, he says, so that it is still cheaper than owning a car. If you’re still feeling sceptical, Holden assured everyone, Weve studied this carefully and we believe it is scalable. Weve done the hard work so we can build skyports, and can get the throughput operationally to move tens of thousands of flights per day per city. Holden also announced that Uber has joined up with NASA to develop an air traffic control system to manage these (potentially autonomous) taxis. The agreements mean the two companies will be able to trade tech and knowledge. Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai will be piloting the scheme along with Los Angeles, so watch this space.
IFL Science, 13 November 2017 ; http://www.iflscience.com