Future Tense

Here Is the Flying Taxi Uber Says You’ll Be Able to Hail in Five Years

Uber's flying taxi prototype.
Uber’s “aerial taxi” is definitely not an airplane. Uber

Given the kinds of headlines it usually generates these days, Uber has to look wherever it can for good news—and this week it’s looking skyward. On Tuesday at its second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles, the company revealed its latest electric flying car concept, which it hopes will lead to a full-blown aerial taxi service by 2023.

The idea behind these Jetsons-style conveyances is that instead of needing a long runway to manage takeoff and landing, they’ll take off and land vertically. This is achieved by stacking the propellers instead of placing them side by side, which Uber says also makes for a quieter landing. Those propellers are positioned on wings that are located far above the passenger bay, so riders don’t have to duck the blades when they board and deplane.

“Uber plans to operate a network of small, electric, aircraft in numerous cities worldwide to enable four-person ridesharing flights in densely populated urban markets,” the company said in a statement. Initially, Uber says, the electric aerial taxis will be piloted, but eventually the goal is to make them autonomous, mirroring its plan for self-driving cars.

How will these flying taxis work, should Uber ever get a fleet of them off the ground? The company’s idea now is that they’ll carry four passengers in order to, as Uber puts it, “avoid the dreaded middle seat,” travel 150 to 200 miles per hour, and soar about 1,000 to 2,000 feet above ground.

Since the taxis aren’t expected to take off for another five years—and that estimate is probably generous—all these details are certainly subject to change. But still, Uber appears to be fully invested in making these flying cars a reality. The company signed a “space act agreement” with NASA last fall to whip up ideas for a new “unmanned traffic management” system to safely oversee and manger these vehicles, which are supposed to be able to land in more places around a city than just airports.

Uber isn’t the only company with flying taxi dreams. Boeing and Airbus also have air taxi projects, and Larry Page, co-founder of Google, backs a company called Kitty Hawk, which shared a video of its flying taxi concept last year—though it looks more like a flying Jet Ski.

Here’s a video Uber made of actors boarding a flying taxi: