By on January 26, 2018

Uber Elevate (UberAir)

Uber Technologies Inc.’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, predicts a nearish future where civilians whiz around in sky-bound automobiles.

“There will be people flying around Dallas, Texas,” Khosrowshahi said at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, his first work-related appearance in Europe since taking over as Uber’s CEO last year. “I think it’s going to happen within the next ten years.”

Considering we’ve been waiting on flying cars for roughly 100 years, what’s another decade?

We’re kidding, of course. Anyone with a modicum of common sense understands that mass-produced floating automobiles are pure fantasy. Work on such vehicles hasn’t really progressed all that swiftly and there’s been no breakthroughs in the technology, either. The best anyone seems to be able to do is build massive drones (which crash) or automobiles that can be converted into airplanes.

Does that make Khosrowshahi a bearded liar? 

Since the Bloomberg article doesn’t elaborate further on his claim and Uber isn’t ready to detail its flying car strategy, it’s difficult to say (but he does have a beard). As a CEO, Khosrowshahi will probably make a lot of outrageous claims illustrating the role his company will play in a hypothetical futuristic utopia — exciting investors with total nonsense is a big part of the job.

However, we’d argue that anyone focusing seriously on air-based vehicles that will ultimately replace the automobile is a bit of a crackpot. Automakers have had numerous opportunities to slap a set of tires on a helicopter, but nobody has bothered with it. Flying cars aren’t a thing, and they definitely aren’t “going to happen within the next ten years.” Fully autonomous cars may not even be 10 years away — and even if they are, they won’t be ubiquitous by then.

The company does have sky-high aspirations, though. Last year, Uber partnered with NASA to develop novel traffic concepts that could be used for robotic flight systems. By working with aircraft, infrastructure and real estate partners, Uber thinks it can undercut traditional aircraft companies by setting up a high-speed flight network with fixed routes between major hubs. The company is called “uberAir” and would work exactly like Uber only with fixed pickup and drop-off points conducive to flying.

The company has also hinted at using flying drones as part of the food-delivery service Uber Eats. As a sack of hamburgers is lighter and less important than a human being, the company incurs less risk when it falls from the sky and explodes all over the pavement. Likewise, getting an email saying your food failed to arrive is easier to cope with than “your wife could not be delivered due to technical limitations of our new service.”

So far as we know, Uber isn’t planning on flying people anywhere using small delivery drones — but it did push Uber Elevate last fall. Elevate was a hypothetical side business that sounds exactly like uberAir. In fact, head of product Jeff Holden actually said the aerial taxi service would start in Dallas by 2020. But these aren’t exactly flying cars, as Khosrowshahi suggested, they’re helicopters that Uber says should also probably be electric and autonomous.

 

Even without a working prototype of the vehicle, Holden claims Uber’s Elevate/Air program is just around the corner.

“There’s been a great deal of progress that’s been hard to see from the outside, because a lot of this is just hard work at the drafting table,” he said in a 2017 interview with The Verge. “We feel really good. It’s been a really interesting process getting our vehicle manufacturing partners aligned on performance specifications, so that they’re building vehicles that align with what we need to make Elevate successful. So lots of good progress there.”

That’s a relief, as we were starting to think this was all made-up bullshit designed to make the company look good.

[Image: Uber Technologies Inc.]

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59 Comments on “North American Skies Will Be Filled With Flying Cars in 10 Years: Uber CEO...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The problem with flying cars isn’t technology, it’s safety and regulation.

    Plus, think of the noise pollution, especially late at night. (Unless we all fly machines like the helicopter from “Blue Thunder”).

    Not gonna happen.

    • 0 avatar
      The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

      Flying personal transport will be common around Dallas when they work out how to make an F-250 into an aircraft. The weight imbalance will be just as difficult to compensate for as the aerodynamics, and how to make it work with a Costco run of groceries and a quad in the back.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      It’s technology.

      MPGs on aircraft flying too low to enjoy the aerodynamic drag benefits of thin air, is a fraction of what it is for cars rolling on smooth roads (by the time you’re spending more energy going forward than you are just staying airborne, you’re going fast enough that drag is enormous). And while the rumors of “peak oil” may have been a bit exaggerated, peak (oil/the number of people on the globe with a realistic claim to some of it) is not. And no other primary energy source able to efficiently power aircraft is even on the radar over the next decade. Not unlikely decades, nor century.

      The Musk Mafia’s Hyperloop may be a bit far out, as are passenger vessel slingshots and cannons, urban gondolas, teleportation and smoking enough weed to get high enough to fly on ones own; but at least those things are only crazy. Rather than boringly stupid, as this nonsense is.

      Doesn’t mean UberFlight can’t/won’t happen. But advancing technology has exactly nothing to do with it. Instead, what makes this possible/plausible, is that the childish fashionably-techno-sounding-start-trek-mumbo-jumbo-for-the-less-than-literate-but-well-connected-set will be used as an excuse for why it is OK to write legislation making it OK for the wealthy and connected to fly deafening, polluting helicopters over the heads of everyone else. Without the latter being able to exercise their God given and natural right to defend themselves against the onslaught, by shooting the rabble out of the sky for sport; the way people in freer countries, like Afghanistan, still enjoy the ability to.

      • 0 avatar
        toxicroach

        Are you kidding? Have you seen the average driver? Flying cars aren’t a thing because we’d all be dead in plane crashes within a year. You screw up with a car you nail a mailbox. You screw up in a plane and people are wondering if it was a terror attack.

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    Uhm, let’s work on level 3 and then level 4 full autonomy first and get that working before you jump to another project.
    People can barely drive cars on the ground and now. You want to put them in the air? Don’t forget we have power lines and huge trees in a lot of places and neighborhoods and cities. So flying cars are a long, long way off, if they even get “off the ground.”

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Amen. They haven’t worked out autonomous vehicles in 2 dimensions yet and here they are going on about 3. Ridiculous.

      This story would have been more appropriate 67 days from today.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      Flying through mostly empty skies is a lot easier than navigating crowded roadways. And such machines would take off and land from designated pads, with clear sky overhead. A corner of a parking lot would do just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        “Flying through mostly empty skies is a lot easier than navigating crowded roadways.”

        Are you a pilot (rhetorical question–you won’t hear pilots saying such nonsense)? If not, buy an aviation handheld transceiver and tune to NorCal Approach/Departure–the ATC facility that handles SF Bay Area aircraft traffic–on any day (SoCal, or whatever they’re calling Los Angeles ATC these days, would do just fine as well).

        Also, there are 8 different classes of airspace–counting alert zones–that these hypothetical classes of aircraft have to negotiate, multiple directional and altitude constraints and, among other things, a Restricted Zone where Lawrence Livermore tests the conventional explosives used to prime nukes, and that’s all but a ‘no fly zone’ at most times. I could go on.

        • 0 avatar
          The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

          They’re going about it backwards. Forget about flying cars, what we need are drivable airplanes. And driver/pilots with a pilot’s license, because that’s what you need to fly a plane. And maybe a car on the ground to drive after you land your plane, which, conveniently, is just how things are right now.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          I am a pilot and, yes, you are right about airspace restriction. But with WAAS GPS (GPS enhanced with ground signals) and ADS-B (automated position reporting based upon WAAS GPS), all of those problems can be solved.

          Look at it this way: where would you rather land on a crowded day? An uncontrolled airport where pilots screw up position reports (or operate without radios) or at a towered field with radar and direct instructions to pilots as well as traffic reports?

          Automating position and response to traffic control is possible and is easier in three dimensions because, unlike on roads, if I need to do a right 360 on a left downwind to avoid some bozo who wasn’t listening to the CTAF I can also climb or descend to improve my chances of avoidance or drive through trees or buildings to do so.

  • avatar
    sgtjmack

    Then again, I guess this is another way to keep your company relevant and in the current events and minds of the masses, just make ridiculous claims about your company and their products. This almost makes Elon Musk sound realistic by comparison.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Anyone who thinks manufacturing flying cars would be profitable is an imbecile. Flying pickups and crossovers is where the money will be.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    All that needs to be done to jump-start this plan is another “innovative” bill out of Congress that is a plane-based counterpart to that awful autonomous car bill from a few days back. “The FAA shall impose no regulations on autonomous drones for passenger transport as long as the company sends the FAA a piece of paper saying they pinky-swear to be sooper-dooper extra careful.”

    Certainly without such an insane waiver, this is going nowhere. The obstacles to doing an Uber-of-the-Air with private pilots are already a non-starter. Forget no-human-pilot drones.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      Private Pilots are not allowed to carry passengers for hire. You need at least a Commercial Pilot’s license, and even then the circumstances under which you can charge are highly restricted.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Probably another empty announcement/claim to raise capital or increase company valuation. Because that’s what disruptive tech companies do, of course.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Commercial basically explains it. The wealthiest people in major cities will replace their helicopters, and that will be about it.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Our senators don’t trust people to drive. Will they trust them to fly?

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Roy Halladay. Enough said.

    Bought a cheap plane. Had it for a couple of weeks.

  • avatar
    carguy67

    The Icon A5 that Roy Halladay crashed lists for between $189 and $250K (before taxes, delivery, etc.). It is a well-engineered and tested and sophisticated aircraft for the money (all but stall/spin-proof I hear).

    Preliminary reports from the NTSB indicate Halladay was performing aerobatic maneuvers at very low altitude; i.e. he was ‘hot dogging’ it, and paid the price (the aerial equivalent of a Mustang after Cars and Coffee). So far, there is no indication that the aircraft suffered any structural or other failure that contributed to the crash (after it impacted the water, however …).

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      Halladay’s A5 was a special edition that listed closer to $400,000. For what you get for that price, it was more Focus than Mustang.

      More relevant to the subject at hand, he was also high as a kite when he crashed; the autopsy found a toxic mix of amphetamines, morphine and Ambien in his blood.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy67

        Thanks. I did a quick search for the price; I thought they were closer to the half-million mark but I took the first price I saw.

        Performance-wise, you’re right. However, the fact it’s amphibious adds a lot of value. And, AFAIK, Halladay only had a ‘light sport’ pilot’s license, which requires less training and testing than a Private Pilot’s license. You can teach someone how to manipulate the controls of an aircraft in a few hours, good judgement can’t be taught, and takes a lifetime to learn (assuming your lifetime isn’t shortened by lack of judgement).

        I have to wonder if Halladay’s instructor wasn’t overcome by ‘celebrity syndrome,’ and wasn’t tough enough on him.

        • 0 avatar
          Middle-Aged Miata Man

          Halladay actually had his PPL, and (I think) a first class medical. In the days following the crash reports said he’d been flying since retiring from baseball in 2013, and that he claimed 700 flight hours. That seems high for a non-commercial pilot over that amount of time, but it’s possible.

          He’d bought his Icon as purely a toy, and I’m sure he didn’t pay list price for it. More likely there was at least a bit of marketing quid pro quo involved, which has since come back to bite Icon… and IMHO the company has other marketing concerns to worry about in that it promotes the thrill of low-level flying to inexperienced pilots.

          Full disclosure, I’m a sport pilot – I let my medical lapse during a health scare 12 years ago – and I work in the industry.

          • 0 avatar
            bunkie

            What are you flying?

            There’s a lot of resentment towards Icon. First off, it is clear that they are not targeting the existing pilot base. Most manufacturers don’t market personal airplanes as “lifestyle accessories”. Then there’s their ownership agreement which is more like a lease than straight ownership. It’s like an airplane with a restrictive HOA agreement. And, add to the fact that they pressured the FAA (with the AOPAs help) to exempt the ICON from the 1320lb LSA gross weight limit because of their “stall-proof” design.

            Add it all up and, to me, it just seems like a bad idea designed to separate people from their money and the consequence be damned.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      Yahoos exiting “HondaJets & Coffe” events would yield pretty good YouTube videos.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      He also had a lot of “chemicals” in him that a pilot should not have. At least according to the coroner’s report.

      Amphibian LSA weight restrictions are 1440# and they still couldn’t make that weight.

  • avatar
    The ultimate family-friendly hybrid vehicle is finally here.

    Considering how many dimwits are currently driving around with suspended licenses and no insurance, and/or intoxicated on weed or booze, do you really want them flying around your neighborhood in the equivalent of a light plane?

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Laughable and I am a private pilot. However it is possible. Just rethink how tech is employed.

    AI for flying is less code intensive than car automation (less rules) and no need for pilot certification. Ballistic chute for safety. Drone configuration for max lift while minimizing mechanicals, single seat lowers payload.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      Yep, I think you’re on the right track. All that’s left is to tie-in traffic and terrain avoidance into the automation, which should be relatively simple with GPS-derived position data (ADS-B.)

      • 0 avatar
        MeaMaximaCulpa

        GPS for terrain avoidance seems like a really bad idea. GPS is far from robust, I’d say that radar is a must for terrain avoidance.

        • 0 avatar
          dont.fit.in.cars

          There’s no need for terrain avoidance. Look at an air sectional (map). It’s divided into squares with a number. Fly above that number and you clear all obstacles.

          People are confusing piloting with transport. Think vertical taxi without a driver. Mechanicals are doable. The show stopper is multiple systems, collision avoidance, transponder, direct routing air conditioning, heli pads, each adding another layer of cost.

          Even the logistics of getting to the top of a building for pick can be a PIA.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “However it is possible. Just rethink how tech is employed.”

      Exactly. Make the flying cars autonomous, and restrict them to certain “air lanes.” I’m no expert on aviation, but I’d have to think this is technically feasible, and putting a decent percent of commuters in the air would make things a lot better for the drivers left on the ground. Besides, roads cost billions; air is free.

      Of course, this is all theoretical. My main question is whether a driving public that’s skeptical of self-driving cars would embrace self driving flying cars. I think that would be a tough sell.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    There will be people flying around Dallas, Texas,” Khosrowshahi said

    He lost me the minute he said that. With two major airports, multiple municipal and private airports, and multiple helipads; DFW airspace is the busiest in the world anecdote and a ATC headaches. You can’t even enter the area without a flight plan and being vectored by ATC. Thinking you will throw flying cars into the mix is not realistic.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Being an outrageous “futurist” is easy. Ya just have to throw reason and sense out the window. We have been told that flying vehicles for everyone are 5-10 years out …. for 40 years! We were also told that electricity would become too cheap to meter thanks to nuclear technology (1954: https://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/nuclear/too-cheap-to-meter-nuclear-power-revisited ). More recently we have been promised the coming “singularity” where human and machine would be fused into eternal beings.

    Ya, right, sure.

  • avatar
    readallover

    I live in Vancouver and I can assure you this will not be allowed. Which leads to the obvious question: When can I get my flying bicycle?

  • avatar

    Flying taxi challenges seem insurmountable, but can be taken one at a time. They are: 1. (FAA) regulations, 2. auto-piloting, 3. batteries, 4. safety and 5. noise levels. Ever realized that autonomous flight in 3D space has more realism to it than that in the ‘2D pane’. No pedestrians up there. Batteries and noise are the flying taxi’s biggest hurdles.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    You could always gather a bunch of balloons and fasten them to a lawn chair…oh, wait, someone already wandered into the airspace over LAX that way. Never mind.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    North American Skies Will Be Filled With Flying Cars in 10 Years: Uber CEO…

    In a followup report: North American Cities will be filled with fallen flying cars in 10.5 years…

    It’s easy to be a [email protected], I know…

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Just no. I live in D.C. and you used to have to stay seated for a half an hour after takeoff/before landing on your flight. There’ ATC for Dulles and National and don’t even think about flying over the mall. The express bus is a better deal than this.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Uber proudly announces the relicensing and new production of the An-2 Kolkholznik. Per the press release, the STOL AN-2 addresses the need for a flying superduty pickup and large SUV. With a GVW of 6 tons, the ability to carry 12 passengers or 2 tons of cargo, the sky is the limit. Under close questioning, the spokesperson admitted the 2mpg fuel consumption rate needs to be addressed.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This isn’t out of the question, as long as the flying cars are autonomous. And in theory, this is a terrific idea – roads are ruinously expensive to build, but airspace is free. I would have to think we have the technology to make this happen, and it might even be easier to do than on roads, if you think about it.

    Self-piloted flying cars, though, are an invitation to mayhem. One word: ISIS.

    Given Uber’s well known desire to see more driving automation, the comments make sense. The question, of course, is whether an American driving public that’s skeptical of rolling autonomous cars will be more accepting of flying ones. I think that’s a hard sell.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Barring some type of VSTOL situation, there’d have to be a common take-off area in more densely populated areas. Weather is another factor, wind, snow, icing concerns. I live in an aging northeast city that’s rife with power lines and, fortunately, the highest percentage of tree cover in the state, despite losing 80,000 trees in a 1998 derecho. Trees and electricity are nice, not for take-offs and landings though. As previously mentioned, the terrorism angle alone makes this whole thing extremely iffy. I marvel at how easily civilization comes to a halt when a traffic light is out at a major intersection here, I just can’t picture these mouth breathers operating aircraft. High speed rail!

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    In theory, I’m all for it. Not because I desire a flying car myself, nor to be transported in one, hell no, but if it relieves traffic congestion on the ground, awesome. More room for me and my primitive land-based vehicles. Driving through Dallas on a Friday afternoon at 5:00 and never having to touch the brake pedal? Yes, please.

    That said, we’ll have people living on the ocean floor and/or Mars before everyone is zooming around in flying cars.

    If Uber really wants to embrace the future of transportation, they should devote their attention to matter-energy conversion technology. Live in Southern California, and have a 3 second commute to your job in New York? That would be the bees-knees. But, I’ll still be the relic who wants to drive instead.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    I really would have preferred that the photo for this article was 1950’s-era concept art of flying cars.

    http://peterturchin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/flying-car.jpg

  • avatar
    AJ

    I don’t know … In a car wreck or breakdown, you’re already the ground. Something/ anything goes wrong up above, gravity will take over. Can’t some great minds work on beaming us around town? That’s what I want! (lol)

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    They won’t be filled with flying cars.

    Let’s ignore regulations, just for a second. Let’s just focus on what a vehicle NEEDS as an aircraft that it does NOT need as a car. Structural support; instrumentation; controls to the wings; fuel supply.

    The Flying Pinto project ended when the removable wings, one of them, collapsed in flight – came off the car body. IIRC, that thing had a thousand pounds of wiring and instrumentation and linkages just to make it airworthy, even with the prop and wings off.

    Elsewhere, UBER and also some people with credibility, have spoken of how driverless cars will be rented by-the-minute as you would a taxicab. And how car-styling and performance will be suddenly meaningless. I dread this sort of dystopian future, but I can kinda-sorta see it.

    That doesn’t mesh with THIS dope dream, of our flying cars.

    The driverless pods will take us to the airport. Whether we get on big airliners or George Jetson pods, is another question; but our cars won’t fly and our aircraft won’t drive on streets. Any more than cargo ships will roll on railways.

  • avatar

    The only thing that is full of more BS than the autonomous car is a flying car. People today are more interested in vaporware than actually pragmatic technology. How many billions of dollars will be wasted on autonomous car technology until it is realized that it is not viable. The flying car is a non starter out of the gate. A cheap Robison Helicopter can essentially do what a flying car can.

  • avatar
    DaveBeNimble

    I was recently at a Hybrid and Electric Aerospace conference. This technology is a lot farther along than most people would expect, and the regulators for the FAA and Europe were present as well. I think here we might all be in for a surprise when this stuff starts coming together much, much quicker than we expected.

    The noise/pollution problem is already largely addressed through electric drive. VTOLs allow roof-to-roof flights. 10 passenger vehicles are already in reach. The question becomes what the actual cost per ride winds up having to be, and how quickly they can move to autonomous flight and eliminate the pilot cost.

    But overall, seeing where the state of the art really is, and the maturity of the thinking and the designs, I was impressed that this tech is much farther along than we think.

  • avatar
    stckshft

    Flying cars have been a pipe dream since the Jetson’s. Single biggest roadblock with this is the FAA. Is the tech feasible? Sure, but you’re dealing with a regulatory agency that still embraces magnetos and carburetors. Want that nice glass cockpit at a reasonable price in your 20 year old Cessna that your buddy installed in his experimental aircraft? Not gonna happen. You’d need to get the Garmin TSO’d panel. Now they are starting to come around, albeit slowly.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    As many lawsuits as Uber has going on against them right now this is just what they need.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Cocaine is a hell of a drug.


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