A future Uber Elevate networks facility is pictured in this handout illustration provided April 25, 2017. Uber/Handout via REUTERS
April 26, 2017

Uber unveils ambitious plans for a fleet of flying taxis

Several months after an Uber executive first revealed that the transportation network company was exploring the potential use of flying car technology, the firm has officially announced their plans to test vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles within the next three years.

According to Slashgear, the announcement came during a press event held in Dallas on Tuesday, and Uber officials confirmed that the tests would take place in both the Texas and Dubai regions. They added that they had entered into third-party partnerships in order to make the tests a reality.

Among the San Francisco-based company’s new partnerships, Bloomberg explained, are several aircraft manufacturers, a handful of real estate firms, and ChargePoint, a California company that will be in charge of establishing a network of electric vehicle charging stations for the vehicles.

Setting a goal of testing flying car technology by 2020 is an ambitious one for a company which has struggled with even its ground-based operations in recent months, the media outlets correctly point out. The business is losing money and is facing an investigation over its business practices, Bloomberg noted, and it is also investing in the development of self-driving cars.

“This isn't going to be easy,” Uber’s chief product officer Jeff Holden admitted during the event, according to Popular Mechanics. But, he added, “it’s natural for Uber to turn our eyes to the air. ... We like to make big bold bets. If you're not planting the seeds five to ten years out, you won’t have a company in five or ten years.”

Cars would reportedly go 100 mph, get 200 miles per gallon

The ambitious plans are part of Uber’s goal of addressing increasingly congested roads and long travel times, which can not only irritate drivers but is also harmful to the environment, according to Slashgear and CNN.  They hope to have a full fleet of flying cars functional by 2023.

Previously, the company has said that it hopes to use VTOL vehicles that are capable of traveling at speeds of at least 100 mph, that use electric motors to reduce noise and that can go at least 200 passenger-miles on a single gallon of fuel, Slashgear said. The development of such vehicles will require next-gen batteries that are long-lasting and lightweight, Popular Mechanics added.

“Sharing airspace is another challenge, and one that will depend on government partners,” they added. Also speaking at the event, NASA and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials vowed that Uber’s initiative would dovetail with drone and other new airspace regulations.

According to BBC News, Uber believes that the flying car service will ultimately cost roughly the same as its standard, ground-based travel service. They hope to be ready in time to host the first public demonstration of their VTOL vehicle during the 2020 World Expo in Dubai.

Uber’s announcement comes just days after reports surfaced that Google co-founder Larry Page had successfully tested a flying-car prototype – or, to be precise, an open-seated vehicle that had eight batteries, room for just one person and which reportedly sounded like a speedboat, at a lake nearly 100 miles north of San Francisco.

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Image credit: Uber/Handout