After announcing plans to release a self-driving car fleet (Driverless car service testing in Pittsburgh has already begun), Uber is now considering launching a ‘flying’ transportation service – quite literally. The company recently released a 98-page whitepaper describing its plans to use Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft – which as the name suggests, can take off and land vertically. These aircraft have fixed wings akin to planes, which lets them fly silently.
This technology would allow airborne passenger drones to fly users over short distances in and around cities, with the chief objective being bidding goodbye to crazy vehicle congestion in crowded cities. Uber has dubbed this futuristic project as the “Uber Elevate” program.
Uber is looking at collaborating with governments, automotive developers, community stakeholders, and regulators to make their vision see the light of the day. The transportation company also believes that these futuristic VTOLs will ultimately be more affordable than their current ‘ground’ offerings.
The company has already given a rough estimate for travel within California. They estimate that the 43.3-mile journey from Marina in San Francisco to Downtown San Jose would have an initial cost of $129 in a VTOL, which, over the long term would cost as little as $20. The same journey would cost $111 in an uberX (Cheapest fare), inclusive of a combination of an uberX and Transit working out to $31. Needless to specify, VTOLs would complete the trip a lot faster – Uber expects a flat 15-minute journey completion by the aircraft, a sharp contrast to the one-hour-40-minute travel time taken by an uberX!
However, making Uber Elevate a reality would mean overcoming several hurdles that may crop up. Firstly, it would require hundreds of pages of new regulations, and secondly, it would require customers who are ready to risk traveling in a small self-flying aircraft.
Of course, all this comes to play only once the VTOL planes are created in the first place. It is presumed that this technology would most likely be extremely expensive to develop, particularly in the initial stages. Uber estimates that to reach a $200,000 price point – the company’s approximation of how much is required for the entire plan to make sense and work – a production rate of roughly 5,000 VTOL planes annually would be necessary.
If this materializes, it would undoubtedly be a revolution in the VTOL industry, which is currently in the nascent stage. An ambitious goal nevertheless, but Uber hopes to make Uber Elevate a reality within the next decade.