SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — Uber unveiled its vision Wednesday for a fleet of autonomous aircraft that could help commuters soar over congested roads by 2023.
The company’s Uber Elevate division is developing autonomous, electric, helicopter-like aircraft that can vertically take off and land, known as VTOLs. The aircraft could travel between 25 and 60 miles before recharging.
“Since the 1950s, they’ve been promising us flying cars. So it’s kind of interesting to see that finally turning into reality,” said commuter Mark Causey.
Uber says the aircraft would initially have pilots, but the long-term plan would be to phase them out. But even commuters fed up with increasingly congestion on the road greeted the news of the new technology with a mix of excitement and apprehension.
“I’m already a cautious person. I’m adventurous, but not that adventurous. To be up in the air without a pilot. I already have a hard time taking a regular airplane with a pilot,” said commuter Tony Riddick.
Uber partnered with Related Companies — a real estate development firm — to create an artist rendering of what the new “skyports” might look like if they were incorporated into the design of the massive housing and retail development planned for North Santa Clara.
Uber’s goal is to begin testing next year and make aerial ride-hailing available to riders in 2023, its first Uber Air cities being Dallas-Forth Worth and Los Angeles.
The company says Uber Elevate would cost roughly the same as Uber X — its luxury car service. What’s less clear is the impact rideshare aircraft would have on cars and commuters battling congestion back on the ground.
“Almost you could think of it as adding a new road network, but in this case it would be in the sky. But it would be quite foolish to believe that is going to alleviate on-ground congestion,” said Asha Weinstein Agrawal who works at SJSU’s Mineta Transportation Institute.
Uber Elevate will still have to contend with the regulatory aspect of launching the new service by making arrangements with the FAA.