It may not be a thing now, but Uber Elevate has plans to make flying to your destination a commercial reality in a decade.
Flying cars have, for the longest time, only existed in films, with movies such as The Fifth Element and original sci-fi cult hit Bladerunner depicting a future with them.
Back to reality, the only thing in our skies right now are still planes and helicopters, and most recently, drones.
Uber Elevate Aims For The Skies
It’s no secret that Uber wants to change the way we travel across cities. They have become a verb synonymous worldwide with ride-hailing and ride-sharing.
Like it or not, they have already conquered our roads, and now they aim to conquer the sky above us.
We had the opportunity to chat with Nikhil Goel, as he shared about what Uber Elevate can bring to cities.
Nikhil is Uber’s Head of Product for Advanced Programs, while also serving as project lead for Elevate, Uber’s initiative to accelerate on-demand, urban aviation.
Working with experts in aviation transportation, they hope to leverage on concepts already in development to speed up in getting Uber Elevate into the market. Some examples which he showed us include the S2 by Joby Aviation, and the A3 Vahana by Airbus, as well as vehicles by some other manufacturers.
Why these particular vehicles?
All of them employ the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) method of flight – this means that they do not require a runway, and can simply takeoff and land on the spot.
Also, it also has a flight range of 200km on a full charge, and as with all vehicles of the future, will be recharged via electricity.
In that respect, Nikhil also shared that building the infrastructure to support Uber Elevate will not be expensive. Called Vertiports, they can be built on most existing buildings and plots of land, especially in places such as parking lots.
The Vertiports will also be where the VTOL vehicles can recharge, as there will be built-in charging stations.
Once everything is in place, say hello to inter-city travel that will get you across town in minutes instead of one or two hours.
Flying Ubers In Singapore
While no cities have been confirmed as of yet, Singapore is viewed as an important node for Uber. Especially since Singapore is their first Asian market when Uber started expansion in this part of the world.
A typical use case in which Nikhil showed us was traveling from the Central Business District to Changi Airport, when getting to and from such places would benefit the most from Elevate.
If Uber Elevate were to come to Singapore, the larger Vertiports would be situated in places such as these, while smaller Vertiports can be scattered across different clusters to create a network.
One thing you should know is that the VTOL vehicles employed in Elevate are by no means supposed to land at your doorstep – there’s still your usual Uber rides for that.
There is also a practical reason for this – cost. As much as technology progresses, any mode of transportation that requires flight will cost more than one on the ground.
To maximise value, each VTOL vehicle must be filled with the maximum of four passengers before taking off.
The Obligatory Regulatory Obstacle
As much as this flight of fancy is something that we can look forward to, Uber still has to work with the individual local governments to make it a reality.
Like self-driving cars, having flying cars can be as contentious of an issue for local authorities to approve, especially in countries like Singapore.
Nikhil, though, has hope that Singapore will be one of the more receptive cities in the world to adopt Elevate, with the government considered one of the most forward thinking when being inclusive of emerging technologies into the country’s transport ecosystem.
He also shared that pilots for these VTOL vehicles can be easily trained, as the flight controls for them are akin to playing a video game. Whether these people will then require a license similar to what traditional aircraft pilots require is again subject to discussions with authorities.
There is also a possibility for existing Uber drivers to upgrade themselves to become one of these pilots after undergoing a course.
In 10 Years, Anything Can Happen
Nikhil also gave a timeline in which Uber plans to make Elevate a commercial reality – 10 years. Before that, testing will be done and is expected to start in the next few years.
Given how technology advances daily, the road to realising Elevate may just be coming sooner rather than later.
Dubai already plan to roll out self flying taxis as soon as later this year but the real exciting news is that from Airbus, one company which Uber has listed as an example in its white paper for Elevate for emerging VTOL concepts.
Earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, Airbus showcased their new concept of the flying car as part of their new subsidiary Pop.Up.
By the same people responsible for the Vahana, they are taking us into the modular future. This new concept centers around a main passenger capsule made up of super lightweight carbon fibre.
This capsule can then either be attached to a ground module (a chassis with 4 wheels) to turn it into a car, or have an air module attached onto the roof, enabling flight through propellers.
This multi-modal intercity transportation concept will of course be self-driving (and self-piloted) and juiced up with electricity.
Now, imagine them being slightly larger to accommodate 4 to 5 people in a single trip.
If Uber and Airbus can make this happen, that’s a future I’m willing to get behind on.