Uber revealed the new concept at its second Elevate Summit, an annual event that highlights progress towards an ultimate goal of commercializing a fleet of autonomous electric flying taxis in city centers.
Uber's holding a big conference today in Los Angeles, Uber Elevate, to share more about its ambitions to launch a flying taxi service.
Uber and NASA promise to develop a flight management system to keep thousands of planes flying orderly.
Uber is still dealing with the fallout from a deadly accident involving one of its autonomous cars, but that's not stopping the company from moving on to the next transportation innovation. Uber say its flying taxis will be able to fly between San Francisco and San Jose, California in just fifteen minutes-a trip that takes almost two hours by vehicle in rush-hour traffic.
"The new space act agreement broadening Uber's partnership with NASA is exciting, because it allows us to combine Uber's massive-scale engineering expertise with NASA's decades of subject matter experience across multiple domains that are key to enabling urban air mobility, starting with airspace systems", said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer. But unlike a helicopter, the aircraft will have clusters of small propellers and run on electricity, making it quieter, more efficient and more affordable. Batteries with sufficient energy density to work don't exist yet, and Uber asking for them to exist won't help.
"Uber is proud to be partnering with ARL on critical research on flying vehicle innovations that will help create the world's first urban aviation rideshare network", said Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate.
He also addressed Uber's sexual-harassment issues, which led to last year's ouster of Uber's previous CEO, Travis Kalanick. "We want to get back on the road but we want to be safe when we get back on the road".
Eric Allison, the company's head of aviation program, showed a chart indicating that UberAir could conceivably charge $90 for a 29-minute ride between locations that would cost $60 and take 69 minutes using the UberX vehicle service instead.
He said "what happened in the past was deeply unpleasant and wrong, but the company from a bottoms-up standpoint started changing, and I think it continues apace". The first two Uber Air cities will be Dallas and Los Angeles.