Uber is promising us flying cars

uber garage
© UBER

Among other things, Peter Thiel is famous for saying “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Now it seems that we are going to get both! Uber has just announced ELEVATE, with a doorstopper of a 98 page document, Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation, that lays out their plans for domination of the skies.

Imagine traveling from San Francisco’s Marina to work in downtown San Jose—a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours—in only 15 minutes. What if you could save nearly four hours round-trip between São Paulo’s city center and the suburbs in Campinas? Or imagine reducing your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes.

VTOL© VTOL

They will do it with electric VTOLs (Vertical Takeoff and Landing). They will launch from the roofs of parking lots, probably filled with waiting Uber drivers and cars, or if you are in the ‘burbs, all those wasted spaces in cloverleafs.

cloverleaf landing pad© UBER

They try to address all of the problems of safety (it will be twice as safe as cars) noise (electric drives will be quiet) Cost (mass production will bring it way down) and certification (who needs it? We’re Uber and just do what we want.)

certification path© UBER

Actually that is not true, they do plan on getting them certified, and expect to by 2024.


Some people have no vision and are skeptical, really. But Alex Davies of Wired thinks that it could happen. And he used to write for TreeHugger so you know it's true.

Aviation experts say that timeline makes sense. Boeing and Airbus have already introduced lightweight, composite materials and fly-by-wire systems to commercial aviation. Consumer drones have proven sophisticated software can make flying a multi-propeller aircraft as easy as thumbing an iPhone. Computers and electric cars have pushed battery technology forward, and the US Department of Energy is spending tens of millions of dollars to accelerate research.

It takes more energy to keep a VTOL craft in the air than it does to move an electric car on the ground, but hey,


..development of new renewable electricity generation (wind, solar, and hydro) is outpacing development of new petroleum/coal sources by a factor of more than two, based on 2016 data (see chart below). Third, electric vehicles (of all kinds) will increase demand for electricity, which will help create the motivation to move toward renewable grid sources, and the electric utilities becoming more CO2 responsible.

Electric companiesAmerica's Independent Electric Light and Power Companies/Promo image

Absolutely, that is how it has worked up ’til now, responsible utilities promoting solar and wind power and being CO2 responsible. And just like they did before, they will all jump on board.

Jeff Holden of Uber is totally optimistic, writing in a Medium post:

The vision portrayed above is ambitious, but we believe it is achievable in the coming decade if all the key actors in the VTOL ecosystem — regulators, vehicle designers, communities, cities, and network operators — collaborate effectively.

And after all, this is coming from a company with a solid and golden reputation for collaborating with cities, communities and regulators. I can see them all welcoming this with open arms.

We love grand visions at TreeHugger, we are happy utopians at heart. But this is something else: Verge suggests that "Uber wants to do for flying cars what it did for the taxi industry: swoop in, disrupt it, and bend it to Uber’s vision of what transportation should be." Perhaps. Or it might just be that they are nuts.

When I was a kid, I loved the British show Supercar. ( I was singing the theme song as I read the report.) Younger American readers might prefer Back to the Future. They are all fantasy.

back© Back to the future poster

Tags: Transportation

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