Uber Hopes Flying Cars Are the Future of Transportation

Photograph by Mark Ralston — AFP/Getty Images

White papers about futuristic transportation machines are en vogue—first, Elon Musk, now Uber.

On Thursday, the ride-hailing company published a nearly 100-page white paper outlining a flying transportation vehicle referred to as a VTOL aircraft, short for “vertical take-off and landing” vehicle. Someday, Uber argues, we’ll be using these small flying vehicles instead of cars.

“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes,” Uber head of product Jeff Holden wrote in a blog post introducing the white paper. “We view helping to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base. 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.”

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Uber says that these aircrafts have several advantage over traditional road transportation because the necessary infrastructure will be less expensive than roads, bridges, and tunnels; they don’t need to follow specific paths like roads; and eventually they’ll be very affordable once they reach a certain scale.

Uber also identifies the most critical challenges we’ll have to tackle before we’re all jetting around in our own flying cars. They include certification from the main aviation agencies like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, improving battery technology and aircraft energy efficiency, managing air traffic, lowering costs, ensuring passenger safety, decreasing aircraft noise and emissions, and providing pilot training, among others.

Uber is far from the first company dream up a future in which we travel using this type of compact aircraft. A number of startups such as Zee.areo, Terrafugia, and Kitty Hawk have been building vehicles for years already.

But that doesn’t seem to be problem for Uber. Much like in the case of self-driving cars, Uber doesn’t want to become a vehicle maker.

“Rather than manufacture VTOL hardware ourselves, we instead look to collaborate with vehicle developers, regulators, city and national governments, and other community stakeholders, while bringing to the table a very fertile market of excited consumers and a clear vehicle and operations use case,” Holden says in the blog post.

In short, Uber says it will put the aircrafts to use in its transportation service, but it doesn’t want to build them.

Up next, the company says it will be contacting regulators, companies, and potential customers in an effort to continue researching this mode of transportation. It’s also planning a related conference in “early 2017.”

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