UBER Elevate: The Future Of Air Transport


Sharing-economy superstar Uber is proposing once again to revolutionize the way we conceive everyday travel; this time, the company has released a 99-page document envisioning a new network of flying electric vehicles that will slash transit times in congested cities around the world.

Driving – and Flying – Innovation

Uber is perhaps best-known for its app that has changed the American taxi business. Just download the app and select a route and driver, and a “ride-sharing” Uber driver, using their own vehicle, provides transportation in many locations. Uber’s rates are often significantly lower than taxi rates, and service areas and times extend far beyond the reach of most traditional taxi companies. At the same time, thousands of people have added a second job to their income or found a new way to support themselves during school through part-time – or full-time – Uber driving. Throughout the process, it’s become one of the best-known of the “sharing economy” businesses, in which individuals bring in extra money and customers can find unique help and accommodations, with the transactions mediated by specialized websites and apps. Fellow players in the marketplace include Airbnb’s home-sharing service and TaskRabbit’s labor exchange.

The company is known for innovation elsewhere, as well. In Pittsburgh, Uber has launched a fleet of self-driving cars. Co-piloted by human drivers, these vehicles are bringing automated transit to a well-mapped area block of city streets. The cars are being developed in conjunction with experts from the city’s high-tech Carnegie Mellon University and join self-driving and autonomous car development taking place at Tesla, Google and other major manufacturers.

A Flying Vehicle in Every Driveway?

The Uber Elevate plan goes beyond all of these initiatives, however, envisioning a future in which personal electric flying vehicles – available for sharing on Uber’s services – are widely available around the world. Uber’s vision of the future sees a world in which flying vehicles are everyday items and a trip in such a flying vehicle costs no more than one in today’s typical Uber cars. In fact, Uber expects to see a large number of these flying vehicles reaching a widespread market in only five to ten years.

Uber’s paper clearly imagines a world in which flying personal vehicles are entirely unremarkable as a transportation choice. You can take them to the airport, drive on set aerial flight plans, fix them at a garage and maybe even borrow title loans online against these personal aircraft of the future.

Helicopters of the Future

Uber sees the vehicles as the next step in the development of ultralightweight planes and even the commercial drones that have become so popular as a recreational activity. The company imagines that these will be electrically powered, evading criticism of a potentially carbon-intensive and wasteful activity, following significant developments in the longevity and strength of electric cars in recent years, especially the developments led by Tesla. In essence, Uber sees these vehicles as a replacement for helicopters that are quieter and electrically powered, taking off and landing in helipad-type areas and flying a few thousand feet over the ground.

However exciting Uber’s plans may appear, there remains a great deal of skepticism about the speed of technological development as well as about the regulations necessary to ensure “road safety” thousands of feet in the air. The dream of personal flying vehicles, however, continues to spark discussion, ideas and dream.