It’s no secret that Uber has its sights set on self-driving cars. Less well known, but potentially more revolutionary, are the company’s plans for flying taxis, which could take to the air as soon as 2020.
Uber’s flying-car program, dubbed Elevate, was first revealed in an October 2016 white paper, which included the following unabashedly utopian vision of accessible, affordable flying taxis:
We believe there is a path to making VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing vehicles) economically favorable to private vehicle ownership and a viable alternative to ridesharing on the ground, so long as VTOL customers are willing to trade off some cost and/or privacy for large gains in speed. We expect an initial carpooled VTOL product will be priced similarly to uberX today, and as ridesharing prices on the ground decline with advancements in self-driving technology, our analysis indicates that VTOL pricing will decrease even more steeply.
That’s right: flying taxis for the same price as today’s Uber rides. Pie in the sky? Maybe. But this week, Uber reiterated its commitment to the project and provided more details regarding operations and testing.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden announced a new partnership with NASA to develop an air-traffic management system to monitor and control the low-flying taxis, which will travel at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.
Holden also added a third city, Los Angeles, to the list of cities targeted for test flights, joining Dallas and Dubai, beginning as early as 2020.
The technical, regulatory, and economic hurdles are imposing. They may turn out to be insuperable. But you bet against Uber at your peril; the company isn’t known for its failures.
And speaking of failures, as an aside, Uber’s Holden proffered a bold prediction regarding the Honda sitting in your garage: Individual car ownership is vastly inefficient and will “go away” in the near future. It’s a compelling notion, which should unsettle not just car manufacturers but car owners as well. At some point, when the end of private car ownership comes into focus, the resale value of those privately owned cars will plummet.
Reader Reality Check
First, driverless cars. Then, flying taxis. Are you ready?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.