Flying taxis sound like a futuristic idea, but Uber wants to test the idea in Los Angeles by 2020. The traffic-laden city is the second city in the US, following Dallas-Fort Worth, to be selected as a test bed for UberAir's network of air taxis.
Uber's plan is to string together a network of electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicles, commonly called eVTOL, and make them available on-demand.
Similar to helicopters, the eVTOL aircraft would take off and land on the tops of buildings and be able to cover distances more quickly and directly compared to cars stuck in traffic on Los Angeles congested roads.
According to Uber's own analysis, a 200-mph all electric ride across Los Angeles would be "price competitive" to an UberX ride of the same distance. It will also be much faster than a car ride on the ground, Uber claims.
In one example, Uber's research predicts that an UberAir ride from LAX to the Staples Center would take less than 30 minutes using UberAir.
An UberX ride between the same distances generally lasts closer to an hour and a half.
"Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground," Uber wrote in its white-paper on Uber Elevate, its name for the overall network, which it unveiled in October 2016.
In Los Angeles, Uber plans to partner with Sandstone Properties to develop take-off and landing hubs for its network of eVTOL planes and plans to bring on additional real estate partners ahead of the anticipated launch, the company said. In addition to Los Angeles, Uber is working to launch similar tests in Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai.
By the time the Olympics come to Los Angeles in 2028, Uber's Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said in a press release that he expects the service to be commercially available and already in "heavy use" by Los Angeles residents. At scale, the company envisions tens of thousands of flights happening in Los Angeles each day, according to Holden.
But the choice of Los Angeles also means Uber will be working in what's also a hotbed for next-generation aerospace activity. Along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites that’s developing Paul Allen’s massive Stratolaunch plane and Richard Branson’s new Virgin Orbit operation in Long Beach, the region is home to growing cluster of startups. These include Rocket Lab, Phase Four, Relativity, Whitinghill Aerospace, Masten Space Systems and Interorbital Systems. While Uber will be a new entrant into the already vibrant aerospace community, it's already planning on holding its next aviation summit in Los Angeles in 2018.
"We are bringing uberAIR to Los Angeles in no small part because Mayor Garcetti has embraced technology and innovation, making L.A. a hub for the future," Holden said in the release. "In this case, technology will allow L.A. residents to literally fly over the city's historically bad traffic, giving them time back to use in far more productive ways, whether more leisure time with friends and family or more time to work."