Since its debut in 1962, The Jetsons has been synonymous with the gleaming utopia promised by technology. The animated series depicts robot housekeepers, luxury smart homes, and a network of flying cars prevalent in the city. While the concept of a smart home is one that has been taking over the tech industry in recent years, the latter is not yet a reality. We’ve still got some leeway, though, considering that the show was set in 2062.
But it turns out that the future of flying cars is closer than you think — at least that’s our key takeaway from the second annual Uber Elevate Summit, which took place on 8 and 9 May 2018. This comes amidst news of the ride-hailing behemoth’s exit from several markets around the world, including Southeast Asia. Yet, Uber continues its efforts to cement itself at the centre of the fledgling industry.
During the two-day summit, the company announced that it plans to introduce flying cars to its portfolio of vehicles. Granted, this is nothing new, as the plan for Uber’s fleet of autonomous flying taxis first came up in 2016. However, the summit marks the first time a prototype for Uber’s fleet of flying cars (called Uber Air) has been confirmed.
“What exactly does Uber’s flying car look like?” You might be thinking.
Like a massive drone, that’s what.
The model, which is designed to fly up to four people in the skies of major cities, will feature four stacked rotors along the spine to provide a lift, which can be stowed away during landing. There is also a fifth rotor on the tail to allow forward propulsion. This ensures that if one rotor fails, the other will continue to operate for a safe landing.
Here’s how it works. According to Uber’s prediction of the not-so-distant future, passengers will be able to book rides through the Uber app and hail the vehicles at various “Uber Skyports” located at the top of buildings. They can then use a combination of flying cars and regular cars to cut down their commute by more than half the time.
While Uber may have to get past regulators such as the Federal Administration Administration (FAA), the company has already started exploring the barriers it’ll need to overcome in order to make vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) a reality.
In fact, it has made significant moves with a handful of aircraft manufacturers, real estate firms, and regulators to better its chances of developing a fully functional, on-demand flying taxi service. Uber has also signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage the aircraft.
If everything goes well, the company aims to begin testing its flying cars in Dallas, Los Angeles, and another international city by 2020. A network is expected to be up and running by 2023.
While it may all seem like a far-fetched vision, Uber isn’t the only company with this futuristic endeavour. At least 19 other companies are developing flying-car plans, including legacy manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, as well as small start-ups like Kitty Hawk, owned by Google founder Larry Page.
Just this year, Dutch company Pal-V unveiled its Liberty Flying Car — a sleek, red three-wheeled gyrocopter-type vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show. The company aims to start client deliveries next year.
Only time will tell if the future of flying cars is indeed closer than we think. For now, we’ll just have to brave hour-long traffic jams while day-dreaming about Uber’s vision for urban air mobility.