Uber and Airbus team up on urban sky-taxi project

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Uber is eyeing up the next generation of transport – think Star Wars’ urban transport systems crossed with a DJI drone.

 

Always on the lookout for new opportunities Uber is eyeing the skies for its next big project and it’s partnering with Airbus to achieve it.

Rush hour traffic is unbearable for many commuters today – take London as a prime example where the average speed of traffic today is slower that than it was a hundred years ago when London was covered with horse and carts and earlier this year Transport for London estimated that over the next number of years these jams would cost London billions in lost productivity. Where we are today seems a million miles away from the sci fi films that show people racing around cities in flying cars  – or some derivatives of – but all that might soon change, and after all, why be limited to 2D movement when you can move around in glorious 3D?

 

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By 2030 over 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, which is 10% more than today so to address this rising concern, Uber and Airbus Group are teaming up to make the dream of all commuters and travellers come true one day – to fly over traffic jams at the push of a button.

Speaking at the Nantucket Conference, Jeff Holden the Products Chief  of the ambitious ride hailing company announced that the company’s interested in launching a city based air service to give riders access to faster modes of transport and that the company is currently researching the idea of using Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft to move people around town or between home and work.

Earlier this year Uber and Airbus collaborated to create an Uber helicopter service that ferried people to and from the Sundance festival. Commenting on the deal at the time, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders said he was excited to “see where it goes” and with that comment in mind, it’s now interesting to note that the European plane maker is currently working on Vahana, a project aimed at developing an autonomous flying vehicle called CityAirbus that’s designed for short hop taxi rides within cities – something the team behind it says could be ready “within 10 years.” With the time scale and objectives the same as those of Uber, it’s conceivable Airbus could end up providing at least some of the vehicles for Uber’s sky based service.

 

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Holden says he’s more interested in a design that has multiple sets of rotors, possibly fixed wings too, and, importantly, an engine much quieter than that of a helicopter. And like some of the road vehicles they’ve been testing recently, he’d like Uber’s flying machine to be autonomous.

Imagine a cross between a DJI drone and a car and you’re about there and if you think these types of designs are a flight of fancy then companies such as EHang have already developed, built and marketed concepts like the 184 in the video below, so it’s unlikely that Airbus will be Ubers sole supplier as and when the service does lift off.

 

The EHang 184
 

Holden predicted that such a service could get into the skies within 10 years, though for that too happen he’d need not only a reliable, cost efficient flying machine, but also permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and customers confident enough to take a ride aboard a pilotless aircraft – bearing in mind that the FAA is already cautiously tossing around permission slips to fly drones to companies that include 7 eleven and UPS.

He said such a service would significantly cut commuting time and road congestion, and has the potential to “change cities and how we work and live.”

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