If you grew up watching The Jetsons, chances are, you fostered some sort of childhood fantasy about the flying cars of the future. Perhaps you imagined that hundreds of years from now, your descendents would travel to work or school or dinner by soaring through the air in tiny shuttles, your childish idea of what they might look like probably informed by the images of UFOs that dominate pop culture. But did you imagine that such a fantastical mode of transportation might actually be a viable option during your lifetime?
The company responsible for turning this science fiction into reality might surprise you; it’s neither a project emerging from the aeronautics industry or the latest brainchild of Elon Musk. The company in question began with a singular stroke of genius when an $800 New Year’s Eve cab ride inspired a young entrepreneur to make cab services more affordable. Uber!
In September, Uber held a conference in Tokyo to unveil its progress in this ambitious undertaking. Led by a team with the cheeky moniker Uber Elevate, this project is a collaboration with NASA. Together, pooling their respective expertise, the two organizations are setting out to make urban aviation ridesharing a reality, and the program will be known as Uber Air. As early as 2023, users will be able to summon an aircraft as easily as we currently summon cars, shuttling them more quickly and efficiently to their destinations.
The idea seems so far-fetched that it’s perhaps a little hard to imagine what, exactly, an urban grid with flying cars would look like. Or what shape the vehicles themselves would take.
Uber has revealed that the vehicles will be VTOL aircraft. This acronym stands for Vertical Take-Off and Landing, and these will fly much like drones. The vision behind Uber Air is one of expediency. The company points to the millions of hours wasted in transit per day as a problem in desperate need of solving; in Los Angeles and Sydney, for instance, data shows that residents spend an annual total of seven weeks commuting, and two of those weeks are spent in gridlock.
But a solution is coming. “Imagine traveling from San Francisco’s Marina to work in downtown San Jose — a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours — in only 15 minutes,” says the company. “What if you could save nearly four hours round-trip between São Paulo’s city centre and the suburbs in Campinas? Or imagine reducing your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes.”
As of right now, the program will see an initial roll-out in three pilot (no pun intended) cities. Dallas and Los Angeles are already slated as launch cities, while a third international city is still up in the air. (Ok, pun intended.) While Dubai was initially selected, negotiations fell through. Late last summer, the company announced that the shortlist of countries up for consideration are Australia, Brazil, France, India, and Japan.
According to The Verge, Uber Air has landed dozens of partners to help execute this complicated new mode of transportation. Leaders in aircraft manufacturing, battery technology, real estate, and government regulation have come onboard to help realize this futuristic dream. And while Uber’s official website lists the challenges that must be overcome, like Air Traffic Control, cost and affordability, safety, and noise, the Uber Air team has an extensive plan in place to face these obstacles.