Uber flying taxis will be ready to fly above our cities by 2020

Uber — Concept image of an Airbus A3 Vahana, one of the emerging flying vehicles highlighted by Uber in a new White Paper.

On Tuesday the ride-hailing company laid out some aggressive plans to get closer to its first flight.

Officials in Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai have signed on to work with the company on testing vehicles that can take off and land vertically in their cities by 2020, Uber said at a conference in Dallas.

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The San Francisco company said it’s partnering with a handful of aircraft manufacturers and real estate firms, as well as with ChargePoint Inc to lay an electric charging network.

Uber’s flying taxis will be small, electric aircraft known as VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing), with zero emissions and quiet enough to operate in cities.

Flying taxis would cut down travel time between San Francisco’s Marina to downtown San Jose to 15 minutes, compared with the more than two hours it takes by road, Uber estimates, at a cost to passengers only a little higher than an UberX.

In the longer term, Uber expects the cost of taking flying taxis to fall below car ownership.

Uber sketched out a clearer vision for its flying taxis at a time when it’s struggling with more urgent problems at the ground level. The company is facing an internal investigation of its work culture, the ongoing search for a chief operating officer to help its embattled leader Travis Kalanick, a core business with mounting losses despite rapid growth and a lawsuit from Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car group over alleged theft of documents.

In addition to being a rival in the courtroom, Alphabet could pose competition in the skies.

Chief Executive Officer Larry Page funded at least two flying car projects. The startups Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero, which are separate from Alphabet, are racing to build personal aircrafts similar to those Uber has proposed. Kitty Hawk released a video on Monday (Tuesday NZT) showing one of its vehicles zooming across a lake, hovering about 4.5 metres in the air, with a rider astride the top like on a motorcycle. Airbus SE has proposed several different concepts for vertical takeoff vehicles, and the government of Dubai is joining with China’s EHang to bring closed-top passenger drones to the city.

Uber first revealed its intentions to build a system of flying cars in a white paper last autumn in the US. In February, the company said it hired NASA aircraft engineer Mark Moore to work on Uber Elevate, its flying car initiative.

Uber said on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), that it’s teaming up with Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer SA, Mooney International Corp and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc to develop electric vehicles. It also said it’s working with Hillwood Properties in Dallas-Fort Worth and several other real estate firms in Dubai to choose sites and construct ports for vehicle takeoffs and landings.

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http://i.stuff.co.nz/, The Washington Post and Agencies contributed to this report.