Uber set to fly com­muters in less than 10 years

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ALEXANDRIA SAGE

SAN FRAN­CISCO: Fly­ing com­muters like Ge­orge Jet­son could be whizzing to work through the sky less than 10 years from now, ac­cord­ing to ride- ser­vices provider Uber, which be­lieves the fu­ture of trans­porta­tion is lit­er­ally look­ing up.

Uber re­leased a white pa­per en­vi­sion­ing a fu­ture in which com­muters hop on to a small air­craft, take off ver­ti­cally and within min­utes ar­rive at their des­ti­na­tions. The flyers would even­tu­ally be un­manned, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

It sounds like the open­ing se­quence to The Jet­sons, the 1962 US car­toon about a fu­ture filled with mov­ing side­walks, ro­bot house­keep­ers and space- flight, but Uber sees fly­ing rides as fea­si­ble and even­tu­ally af­ford­able. Uber al­ready of­fers he­li­copter rides to com­muters in Brazil.

The com­pany plans to con­vene a global sum­mit early next year to ex­plore on-de­mand avi­a­tion, in which small elec­tric air­craft could take off and land ver­ti­cally to re­duce con­ges­tion and save time for longdis­tance com­muters and even­tu­ally city dwellers.

Oth­ers have also en­vi­sioned such air­craft, akin to a he­li­copter but with­out the noise and emis­sions. Ver­ti­cal take- off and land­ing air­craft (VTOL) have been stud­ied and de­vel­oped for decades, in­clud­ing by air­craft mak­ers, the mil­i­tary, Nasa and the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Uber is al­ready ex­plor­ing self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy, hop­ing to slash costs by elim­i­nat­ing the need for driv­ers in its core busi­ness of on-de­mand rides. On- de­mand air trans­port marks a new fron­tier.

Uber’s vi­sion ar­gues that on- de­mand avi­a­tion will be af­ford­able and achiev­able in the next decade as­sum­ing ef­fec­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween reg­u­la­tors, com­mu­ni­ties and man­u­fac­tur­ers. Ul­ti­mately, us­ing VTOLs for trans­port could be less ex­pen­sive than own­ing a car, Uber pre­dicted.

Such air­craft would be “op­tion­ally pi­loted”, Uber said, where au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy takes over the main work­load and the pi­lot is re­lied on for sit- ua­tional aware­ness. Even­tu­ally, the air­craft will likely be fully au­to­mated. Hur­dles in­clude bat­tery tech­nol­ogy. Bat­ter­ies must come down in cost and charge faster, be­come more pow­er­ful and have longer life cy­cles.

Reg­u­la­tory hur­dles must also be solved such as cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tors as well as in­fra­struc­ture needs, such as more take-off and land­ing sites. Uber plans to reach out to stake­hold­ers within the next six months to ex­plore the im­pli­ca­tions of ur­ban air trans­port and share ideas be­fore host­ing a sum­mit next year to ex­plore the is­sues and so­lu­tions and help ac­cel­er­ate ur­ban air trans­porta­tion. – Reuters

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