To the disappointment of “Back to the Future” fans everywhere, 2015 came and went with nary a flying car zooming across the sky. But perhaps Doc Brown and Marty McFly will only need to travel a handful of years later, into the future that is, if they want to see the first real flying cars.
Partnering with NASA, Uber unveiled last year a new venture called Uber Elevate, which will introduce a pay-as-you-go flying ride-sharing service to metropolitan skylines. The program initially planned to launch in Dubai and Dallas Fort Worth, but then last month Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden announced that the company is adding Los Angeles as one of its pilot cities. He hopes for the aerial taxi service to take off as early as 2020 – which is less than three years away.
Speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Holden said that Uber signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage these low-flying autonomous aircraft. The Uncrewed Traffic Management system (UTM) was initially intended to regulate drone traffic, but will now also be utilized for Uber Elevate. Beginning with a fleet of low-flying helicopters, and in cooperation with air traffic controllers, they will first test the UTM system around the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport area.
“NASA is very focused on getting UTM adoption and pressure-testing the framework and make sure it works correctly,” Holden said. “Uber is actually trying to put this new air traffic system into production.”
While there is no financial exchange between Uber and NASA as part of the agreement, it will allow both to trade technology and expertise.
How Requesting an “Air” Lift With Uber Works
Ordering a lift with UberAIR operates on the same principles as your current Uber experience, in that you use an app on your phone to request a flying taxi. But then it becomes a whole new experience.
First, you walk to a nearby participant building, and then take the elevator up to a “skyport” on the roof. There you will pass through a turnstile with a scan of your phone. You will also be weighed to confirm the approaching taxi can handle the cumulative passenger load. Then you’re up in the air and on your way to another “skyport” closest to your destination.
And the experience is not intended to be expensive; Holden says that is not Uber’s MO.
“If we’re doing this, you have to believe that we’re going to get the price very low.”
More significant than the low airfare, Holden projects that the cost of flying with Uber will be cheaper than owning a car — and that is exactly what the company wants. Uber’s mission is to bring an end to personal car ownership, and the aerial taxi service is another means to that end.
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