Flying taxis might sound like something from the distant future. But if Uber has its way the skylines of cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, and Dubai will be sprinkled with flying cabs by 2020.
Uber is working to create an on-demand fleet of electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. These aircrafts are like helicopters because they will take off and land on the rooftops of buildings. They’ll take customers around metropolitan areas quicker and more directly, avoiding the congestion on the roads below. This is sure to be a breakthrough, especially for places like LA that are famous for their traffic jams.
In fact, LA is the second city, after Dallas-Fort Worth, to be selected as a test site for what Uber calls UberAir. By Uber's own estimates, an eVTOL ride across Los Angeles would be "price competitive" to an UberX trip of the same distance.
And it’ll be faster – eVOLT taxis will travel at speeds upwards of 200-mph. The company
predicts that a trip from LAX Airport to the Staples Center will take less than 30 minutes using UberAir. A car ride over the same distance generally takes about 1 1/2 hours. According to an Uber white paper, "Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently; urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground.”
Uber is partnering with Sandstone Properties in Los Angeles to create a network of take-off and landing locations for its eVTOL aircrafts. It plans on developing similar relationships with additional real estate companies in LA, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Dubai. Uber’s goal is to have systems in place in all of its test cities ahead of the anticipated launch of UberAir.
The 2028 Summer Olympics are scheduled to be in Los Angeles. In a press release Uber's Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said he envisions that UberAir will be a central part of the city’s transportation during the Games. Not only does Holden forecast that the service will be established and already in "heavy use” by then, but that tens of thousands of flights will be shuttling across the sky each day during the Olympics.
UberAir is part of the expanding aerospace community. Elon Musk of Tesla fame recently founded SpaceX. Paul Allen is developing his Stratolaunch plane with Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites. And Richard Branson’s new Virgin Orbit is set to offer launch services for small satellites. Other startups include Rocket Lab, Phase Four, Relativity, Whitinghill Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, and Interorbital Systems.
Uber believes its strategic partnerships will help it compete in such a crowded aerospace industry. Pipistrel Aircraft, Aurora Flight Sciences, Embraer, Mooney, and Bell Helicopter have all signed on to collaborate on the eVTOL aircrafts. Uber has also teamed with city and state lawmakers. "We are bringing UberAIR to Los Angeles in no small part because Mayor Garcetti has embraced technology and innovation, making LA a hub for the future," Holden said in his
release. "In this case, technology will allow LA residents to literally fly over the city's historically bad traffic, giving them time back to use in far more productive ways, whether more leisure time with friends and family or more time to work."