Uber is stepping up its bid to create one of the first urban flying taxi networks.
The firm unveiled its Uber Air design models for the first time at the Elevate Summit in Los Angeles today, revealing a look at the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) craft that could be ferrying passengers above congested cities in just two years.
A full-size model and miniature design prototype showed off to CBS News show how the electric flying taxis could fit up to four riders per vehicle, at first for piloted flights before ultimately becoming fully autonomous.
Uber plans to launch the air-taxi service in 2020, with its self-flying craft to follow in the next five to 10 years.
During the summit, Uber execs also revealed the firm has plans to take on nearly 10 times the number of daily flights than the FAA for a single city – and, it could cost riders less than $2 per mile.
The models in LA offer a glimpse at the helicopter-like craft that will lift off using a series of rotors. But, the electric vehicles will be far quieter than a helicopter.
The plan will rely on a network of ‘Skyports,’ which will allow the VTOL Uber Air craft to take off and land on rooftops across the country.
At launch, according to Head of Aviation Programs Eric Allison, a trip with the system will cost about $5.73 per passenger mile.
As ridership increases, the firm plans to make it more affordable, with an ultimate goal of achieving costs of about $1.84 per mile.
‘We think cities are going to go vertical in terms of transportation and we want to make that a reality,’ Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS News.
‘We want to create a network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices.’
A video demonstrating the firm’s vision of a flying taxi network reveals what appears much like its current on the ground model.
Passengers can hail a ride using the mobile app, though these must be booked 60 minutes ahead of time.
Then, they’ll head to the terminal to find their craft.
According to Stan Swaintek, Head of Operations, Aviation at Uber, the system is designed to be seamless and intuitive for the rider.
‘Prior to pushing the button to get the flight, she acknowledges an in app safety briefing, and then requests the Uber Air trip,’ Swaintek says of the demonstration.
‘At this point, all elements of the trip are locked in: her aircraft, co-riders, Skyport pads, and even the first mile solution.
The ultimate efficiency in this system is really unlocked as a result of our Skyport Network, which as we’ve discussed today, is intentionally sighted to maximize rider convenience.’
According to the Uber exec, the ports are ‘built where our riders most frequently start and end our trips.’
Passengers will be ‘passively weighed’ to determine the best seating for inside the craft, making for the optimal configuration for balance, Swaintek said.
And, finding your ride is simple; the Uber Air craft will use a color-matching technology similar to the firm’s Beacon system that helps passengers find their Uber car.
Earlier this year, Khosrowshahi revealed the firm plans to roll out its self-flying taxis in the next five to 10 years.
The piloted airborne version of its ride-hailing app is expected to launch in 2020.