During the Nantucket Conference (an annual technology and entrepreneurship conference) on Sunday, Jeff Holden, products head of Uber, said the fast-growing ride-sharing company is seriously looking at a new form of travel for its customers – short-haul flying in cities. If it pans out, a trip from San Francisco to Oakland (which has recently seen an increase in massive traffic jams) could take as little as 9 minutes.
The new technology, called VTOL (or vertical take-off and landing), is an aircraft most similar to a helicopter, but with multiple rotors and fixed wings. In the future, such vehicles could also run on batteries, thereby decreasing noise and opening up possibilities for using cleaner fuel, and operate without a human pilot.
Inspired by the speed at which the company is progressing towards self-driving vehicles (you can already hail an autonomous Uber cab in Pittsburgh, overlooked by a human driver in case there’s a need to take over), Holden thinks the new technology could be in use within a decade.
Although the plan is still in its infancy, the company plans to build airports pretty much everywhere, including on top of buildings, which could dramatically reduce commuting time and traffic congestion in places where that poses a real problem.
As futuristic as all of this may sound – and Uber has already offered helicopter services before, albeit principally for marketing purposes rather than actual travel – the development of VTOL aircraft is already far along, mostly carried out by the military, and specifically – the Defense Adanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA.
In addition, a number of start-ups and even big companies had already threw their hats in the ring – for example, the aeronautics giant Airbus is currently working on air taxis (that will look like those hover vehicles from the Sixth Element, presumably) for cities, serving both passengers and cargo.
While there are still many regulatory and safety issues to overcome, Holden is enthusiastic about the new idea, claiming it could change not only our cities, but also the way “we work and live” in them. According to him, the ultimate goal of Uber was always to eliminate private car ownership over time, and with the help of VTOL, this might come a little closer to fruition.