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Uber aims for potentially over-ambitious 2020 demo of flying car network

On-demand car service company Uber has announced that it will be taking to the skies in three years.

The announcement was made at Uber’s Elevate Summit, a three-day conference that is taking place in Dallas. Uber aims to deliver a working demo in time for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai.

Uber says that it is partnering with cities, the aviation and real estate industries and electric charging companies in order to get its cars off the ground. Along with Dubai, the flying taxi service will also be tested in Dallas-Fort Worth if everything goes according to plan.

“Urban aviation is a natural next step for Uber,” chief product officer Jeff Holden said in a statement, “That’s why we’re working to make ‘Push a button, get a flight’ a reality.”

As well as partnering with companies, Uber has poached some serious talent to fulfil its ambitions. In February, we reported that the company had hired former NASA engineer Mark Moore as Director of Engineering for Aviation.

At least at first, it won’t work quite the same as the car network, with pickups happening at any location. In order to ride an Uber vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL), you’ll have to make your way to one of Uber’s takeoff and landing pads (vertiports).

screenshot from Uber's white paper

Uber believes it can fly.

Although the service will be demoed in Dubai and Dallas, the goal is to eventually roll it out to hundreds of cities worldwide.

It’s all very ambitious, especially considering the troubles that Uber has had as of late. The company has suffered numerous leadership crises and is constantly battling governments and the taxi industry. Most recently, the New York Times reported that in 2014, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got a jolly good telling off from Apple boss Tim Cook.

Uber’s recent struggles with its autonomous vehicle program suggest that the company may be trying to run before it can walk. They have enough problems on the road, so why do they think flying will be any simpler? Currently, airspace is heavily regulated and licensed pilots are required to helm aircrafts. If Uber thinks roads are troublesome, it ain’t seen nothing yet.

Uber isn’t the only company that’s looking to the skies. Startups in the Netherlands and Slovakia are both taking deposits for flying cars that are being built and Massachussett’s-based Terrafugia is working on a VTOL aircraft that won’t require a full pilot’s license (Yikes). Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk will no doubt throw his hat into the ring at some point too because he seems absolutely obsessed with changing the world.

It may sound super exciting, but industry experts told USA Today that we shouldn’t get too hype yet.

“Generally speaking, technology is outstripping not just existing regulations, but the speed with which government regulators can rule on new regulations that ensure new technology is safe and organised,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive, which includes Kelley Blue Book.

“There’s no question that 25 years ago, we didn’t have the technology to consider any of this”, said Dick Knapinksi, spokesperson for the Experimental Aircraft Association. “But considering we’re still trying to figure out how drones should use airspace, having cars flying around could take a while.”

So there you have it. Yes, Uber is working on flying cars and has set a date of 2020 for a demo. However, keep in mind that the company is embattled and has had serious trouble getting self-driving cars going. On top of that, there is the government regulation of airspace to contend with.

Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to make do by watching Back To the Future again because where we’re going, we still need roads.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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