During an onstage interview with Recode at the Nantucket Conference, Uber products head Jeff Holden said that the company is researching how it could provide a short-distance flight service using vertical-takeoff aircraft. Holden said Uber wants to be able to offer its customers a multitude of ways to travel, so looking into three-dimensional, flying options was an “obvious” thing to do, and he believes such a service could be in operation within the decade.
Vertical takeoff, the process utilized by helicopters, allows the pilot to easily control the aircraft’s altitude. Uber wants to meld said technology with the tech used to make planes to create something along the lines of a drone. This would involve engineering fixed wings and multiple rotors, and ideally, the vehicles would one day be autonomous.
The quick-flight services would be flitting from rooftop to rooftop in cities, carrying multiple passengers kind of like a stylish aerial carpool. Not only does this mean that every building would be like an airport, but commute times and road congestion for those down below would be reduced. In fact, Holden claimed that Uber’s aircraft could reduce a long commute, like that between San Francisco and Oakland, down to just 9 minutes.
Some issues, like how these aircraft would navigate the airspace in densely populated cities (and whether they’d crash into each other), are still being resolved. Holden, however, was confident in the pace of development, citing the progress of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with its Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane), along with the number of big companies and startups interested in the idea.
In addition to Uber, several other pioneering companies are currently on each other’s heels in the race for transportation innovation.
Cars powered purely by electricity are rolling out onto roads. Intensive research is going into driverless cars (some of which is even supported by the U.S. government). And don’t forget SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision for what he calls “the fifth mode of transportation,” Hyperloop, a futuristic form of travel in which passengers sit in a pod and zoom through a tube, covering a vast geographical distance in a short period of time.
In just a few years, traveling from place to place could be a whole new process. Fasten your seat belt.