On Tuesday, Uber announced that the ride-hailing service company will be partnering with a group of aviation companies to work on VTOL technology. VTOL stands for vertical takeoff and landing. The group of partners include Bell Helicopter, Embraer, Aurora, Pipistrel and Mooney. Uber's ambition of air transportation is nothing new, last year in October the company released a 99-page white paper on the technology. Named "Uber Elevate," their philosophy is to build a network of small VTOLs which revolutionize personal transportation and commuting. In February, the company hired formed NASA engineer Mike Moore as its director of engineering to work towards realizing their goal. The vision of using VTOLs is because the technology aims towards hovering, taking off and landing vertically like a helicopter but will be more efficient, less noisy and much cheaper than a helicopter.
However, Uber is not the first nor the only company to be researching this technology. A handful of other startups are currently working on the same technology including some really big names with massive pockets such as Google founder Larry Page, aerospace firm Airbus and the government of Dubai. "Imagine if you get up in the morning and go on a six-minute flight versus an hour in a car and wasting time," said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer. Holden was a speaker at Uber's Elevate Summit in Dallas on Tuesday. The company was convening a three-day summit in order to bring together people from venture capital, aviation technology, vehicle manufacturing and regulation to talk about their dream of flying cars.
Like the project in Dubai, the operating of these VTOLs will most likely be handed over to autonomous technology. The task of flight may be too complicated and dangerous for human pilots without many hours of practice. The flight path may be limited, with autonomous technology, the VTOLs may travel on a specific route and take off and land in only certain places. The technology in Dubai is aiming for the vehicle to safely land at the nearest safe location should the vehicle face any danger warnings. The only company with a price tag on flying cars right now is AeroMobil, a Slovakia-based company, which has their flying car priced at between €1.2 and €1.5 million. While the price tag may seem a bit out of reach for the middle-class, the price pales in comparison to helicopters. Some sites for the purpose of selling second hand helicopters has ranges from $2 million to $7 million. And even if the technology is available by 2020, legislation concerning flying vehicles may take many years to develop. While only a handful of cities has allowed autonomous driving tests, it may be a long time before law makers allow such technology be allowed. This, the government of Dubai has a step up on Uber, since the oil-wealthy country has made it their prerogative to have flying car technology available for the masses.