Don’t get too excited yet about evading city traffic by flying in Uber taxi’s space-age like drones. Though Uber premiered its “flying car’ concept at the recent Elevate conference in L.A., the actual target launch of the aerial taxi service is still in 2023, a good five years from this sneak preview. Looking like an extremely light plane but functioning more like a helicopter, it has four rotors for lift and one at the rear for propulsion. Why so many rotors? It means that should one rotor fail, there are others that can operate and enable a safe landing for the four passengers and driver on board. Uber said that the rotor design where one is on top the other and rotating in the same direction results in quiet and better performance.
Flying at 1,000 – 2,000 feet at a speed of 150-200 miles per hour, it will land on sky ports and other landing sites that can accommodate passengers at the rate of 200 landings and take-offs per hour. Electric-powered with a single charge sufficient for a 60-mile radius, it will be piloted by humans initially. Eventually, Uber sees a future where the aerial taxis can fly on auto-pilot but this would depend on the public’s acceptance of the concept.
Uber’s flying taxi was broached in 2016 but it faces not just design issues but also engineering and regulatory concerns. It’s true that an autonomous, electric air taxi that can conveniently take off and land vertically, land from rooftop-rooftop is a Utopian shuttling goal, but it does face a very uncertain future. However, the mood of Uber’s manufacturing partners, Bell Helicopters, Embraer, and Pipistrel remains upbeat. In fact, way ahead of its competitors, Uber is already in talks with real estate firms to firm up its idea of skyports for its air taxi service. More significantly, Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA for a new traffic control system that will enable Uber’s low-flying to be a commercial possibility.
The idea is not unique to Uber – although it has the upper hand at the moment. Already, Kitty Hawk owned by Google’s Larry Page, and the venerable Airbus and Boeing are testing the waters. It looks like, despite its woes in its Asian operations, Uber may yet rule the urban skies in the future.