Uber reveals its flying taxi prototype for UberAir
Uber is still dealing with the fallout from a deadly accident involving one of its autonomous cars, but that’s not stopping the company from moving on to the next transportation innovation.
Ahead of its Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles Tuesday, Uber shared a prototype of its “flying taxi” with CBS This Morning.
“We think cities are going to go vertical in terms of transportation,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS. “We want to make that a reality.”
Uber showed CBS a prototype of the vehicle, which looks more like an airplane-like drone than a flying car. It runs on electricity, and has several stacked propellers that allow for both a vertical lift and a forward thrust.
But the prototype isn’t final. CBS reported that Uber is “still in the design phase.” Plus, the prototype needs to be at least three times bigger.
Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, kicked off the second annual summit Tuesday morning. He spoke about UberAir and how battery and autonomous technology is making the electric passenger drones a real possibility. He said “clean, quiet, safe” vehicles flying through cities will eventually become commonplace.
Uber shared a video of its vision for UberAir in November 2017. The video depicts a woman booking an UberAir through the app, heading up to an Uber “skyport” at the top of a building, and then sharing her ride with three other passengers while gazing down at the bumper-to-bumper freeway below. The company’s white paper lays out the details of its electric vertical take-off and landing idea as well.
In the video, a pilot flies the “taxi.” But Uber says it plans for the vehicles to become autonomous.
Uber reportedly wants to make this transportation vision our reality a lot sooner than you might think. In February, it announced the goal of making UberAir operational in the next five to ten years. It’s also planning demo flights in Los Angeles by 2020.
That aggressive timeline makes sense given recent developments by soon-to-be-competitors in the autonomous flying taxi arena. Volocopter’s flying taxi took to the skies for the first time months ago, in September 2017. Larry Page’s “Kitty Hawk” aims to launch autonomous flying taxis in New Zealand by 2021. And, most recently, the passenger drone startup SureFly succeeded in flying its autonomous two-seater helicopter just three days ago.
However, none of these companies have the consumer network that Uber does. And easy access for consumers might be more crucial to winning the flying taxi arms race than pure technical innovation.
“You’ve got to set aggressive goals in order to push teams and people to make those goals,” Khosrowshahi said in the segment. “We take big, bold bets. That’s part of the norms and the culture of this company and this is another big, bold bet that we think ultimately is something that the cities of the future are going to need.”
Sasha Lekach contributed to this report.