Uber looks to clear its flying cars for US take-off
UBER is mounting a charm offensive with the US government as it presses ahead with plans to send flying cars into city skies in as little as two years.
The technology giant will this week host officials including Donald Trump’s transport chief, and the head of America’s airspace watchdog, at a summit in Los Angeles, at which it hopes to establish itself as a leader in urban flight.
Uber has hired a roster of senior Nasa and aerospace employees in the last year to deliver chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi’s plans for swarms of robot-driven airborne vehicles that transport passengers across cities.
It claims the service will be cheaper and faster than existing taxi services, upending urban transport and addressing growing congestion fears.
Mr Khosrowshahi, who took charge of Uber last year, has overhauled much of the ride-hailing app’s business but has outspokenly backed Uber Elevate in the face of scepticism.
Uber has retreated from some international markets and was forced to halt tests of driverless cars following a death in March, putting more pressure on the aerial division if Uber is to justify its $72bn (£53bn) valuation.
On Tuesday, Elaine Chao, the US transportation secretary, and Daniel Elwell, the chief of the Federal Aviation Authority, will appear at Uber’s “Elevate” summit as it outlines its plans to begin aerial tests in cities including Los Angeles, Dallas and Dubai in 2020.
It believes that an aerial taxi service will be available to the public within five years, and will eventually become a common way of commuting across cities. Uber has said the vehicles will be controlled by pilots at first, but will ultimately be autonomous and batterypowered. The cost of flights could eventually be cut to 50 cents per mile, Uber said, equivalent to the current cost of driving, with journeys that currently take up to an hour and a half being reduced to a 15-minute trip.
Regulation is likely to be a key barrier for the company, with strict airspace rules limiting traffic close to buildings. But the White House has relaxed rules on drone flights, amid fears that regulations are putting the US at a disadvantage, and may be swayed by similar arguments regarding passenger aircraft.
Uber has tangled with governments around the world over its ride-hailing app, but under Mr Khosrowshahi has struck a more conciliatory tone, saying it wants to work more closely with regulators.
Uber has appointed a string of industry heavyweights in the last year to push its plans through. In March it hired Eric Allison, the chief executive of Zee.aero, a flying car company backed by Google founder Larry Page, to run Uber’s aerial division.
In August, it poached Tom Prevot, a Nasa veteran, and in February last year, it appointed Mark Moore, another senior official at the space agency, as its lead engineer for aerial vehicles.
Uber expects that its flying cars would use rotors to take off and land vertically, but use fixed wings over longer distances.
Regulation is likely to be a key barrier with strict air space rules limiting traffic close to buildings