One of the most contentious technology companies in history plans to operate a flying taxi service by the year 2023. Uber, the personal transportation service that has thoroughly disrupted the traditional taxicab business model around the world, is working on a platform to provide aerial ridesharing in metropolitan areas by means of self-flying vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
Uber Elevate is the name of the company developing the Uber Air service, which has selected Dallas, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and Silicon Valley as the metro areas where the first Uber Skyports will be located. The most concrete plans presented thus far suggest that Santa Clara will be the first site, precisely within an upcoming neighborhood that will combine luxury condominiums, gleaming office parks, and high-end shops.
It only makes sense that Uber Air would choose Santa Clara, an affluent Silicon Valley community, for its first Skyport, which would also serve as a hub to recharge both VTOL aircraft and Uber Eats delivery drones. Renderings presented by architectural firm Foster + Partners show a small and stylish air terminal that links with a main highway dividing a corporate park and a residential section.
If you think that Uber is moving too fast with its air mobility plans, you are not alone. Urban planners from Santa Clara are excited with the prospect of a futuristic flying taxi service in their communities, but there is a certain level of skepticism because of various factors. First of all, the Santa Clara Skyport would be located uncomfortably close to the busy San Jose International Airport, thus creating air traffic concerns. Second, it may take decades before aviation officials approve autonomous aircraft, but Uber Air will initially provide pilots for each of its VTOL units, although the ultimate goal is to operate unmanned aircraft.
Critics of Uber are pointing out that the company seems to be in a rush to develop autonomous solutions that would one day replace human operators, starting with Uber Eats delivery drivers and followed by the original business model of drivers who put their own vehicles, fuel and maintenance to work for the company. In the case of Uber Air, the VTOL aircraft fleet is intended to be autonomous from the beginning; the placement of safety pilots will be a matter of compliance that Uber will push to one day eliminate through strategic lobbying. Interestingly, many of Uber’s largest investors fully support this push towards full automation.