Uber is dead set on bringing its ride-hailing service to the skies, and the company showed off its latest flying taxi prototype on Tuesday.
The prototype bowed ahead of Uber's Elevate conference, which will bring the aviation, real estate, and infrastructure industries together with government regulators. As for the machine itself, the VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) craft features four stacked rotors to provide lift. The rotors store away for landing purposes. Meanwhile, a rear fifth rotor provides forward movement. Uber said its initial research found the stacked rotors provided better performance and quieter operation.
The vehicle will feature battery-electric power and be capable of reaching elevations of 1,000 to 2,000 feet in the air. Uber's plan is to roll out an air-taxi service by 2023, though that date has been pushed back from a 2020 goal. The company originally planned for such a service in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles, California, where it envisions air taxis shuttling passengers to skyports in cities that are capable of handling 200 takeoffs and landings every hour.
Vehicles would travel on fixed "uberAir" routes in designated areas. At first, Uber said humans will pilot the craft, but eventually, they could move to self-flying technology.
Uber's goal is a lofty one, though many other companies are chasing similar flying taxi vehicles, including Kitty Hawk, backed by Google's founder, Larry Page. Regulatory issues remain the largest hurdle for VTOL type of vehicles, but Uber hopes to ease some of this with a recent NASA partnership to manage future flying taxi fleets.