It hasn’t been a good year for Uber. The ride sharing company has been hit by revelations of a toxic corporate culture and a lawsuit from Waymo over stolen technology. But, through it all, Uber is still looking upwards. This week, Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said that Uber plans to have flying cars (with pilots, not autonomous) in the air in Fort Worth, Texas and Dubai by 2020.
Because a lot of people have been playing real fast and loose with the term “flying car” lately, it might help to define what Holden is talking about here. Uber’s vision for this project is, once again, not the Blade Runner car of your imagination. But, it is a VTOL, meaning it takes off vertically like a helicopter. In fact, it’s fair to wonder how this plan differs from Uber’s existing helicopters — the answer seems to be there will be more of them, and they’ll be cheaper at $1.32 per mile.
While making the announcement at the newly minted Uber Elevate Summit earlier this week, Holden revealed that Uber is working with Aurora Flight Services and Pipistrel Aircraft to create the vehicles themselves, while teaming with real estate firms to figure out landing pads. They’ve even had talks with NASA about the project, although it’s hard to tell how substantive any of these talks have been.
Perhaps more importantly, Uber has also been talking with the National Air Traffic Control Association. Not just any vehicle or any pilot can take to the skies — any pilot of a flying car would need some sort of pilot’s license, and there are restrictions on where vehicles can fly and how high up they can go.
Even that might be looking too far ahead. While Uber has been ambitious with these flying car plans and their ongoing autonomous driving efforts, the company’s only proven success is an on-demand taxi platform. And, with internal documents revealing that their autonomous efforts haven’t gone very well (especially compared to Tesla and Waymo), the 2020 goal for flying cars seems incredible.