Uber's plans to have air taxis in every city have leapt off the drawing board after it signed a deal with the US space agency. The ride-hailing app thinks the first flights could begin within three years in US cities.
Uber revealed on Wednesday more advanced plans for flying cars that help commuters beat urban traffic jams in jets that can take off and land vertically.
Unveiling an artist's impression of the sleek, futuristic electric aircraft at a technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the ride-hailing app announced it had struck a deal with NASA to develop new air traffic control software that could help it manage the thousands of aircraft flying over cities.
Take off from office roof
The Uber Elevate plans were also detailed in a video showing a customer travelling by elevator to the Uber Skyport on the roof of her office skyscraper, where her flying cab awaits. She then swipes her smartphone to pass through security before boarding the jet. It then takes off just like a helicopter.
Uber first announced plans to deploy flying taxis last year, and has already signed up Dallas and Dubai to help launch the project. On Wednesday, it confirmed that Los Angeles would also trial the scheme from 2020.
Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden also said Uber would begin by testing four-passenger, 200-miles-per-hour (322-km-per-hour) flying taxi services
The battery-powered aircraft looks like a cross between a small plane and a helicopter, with fixed wings and rotors.
Holden said LA residents would be using the service regularly by the time the city hosts 2028 Olympics.
"Technology will allow LA 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," he added.
Skies busier than ever
Uber said it envisaged tens of thousands of flights crossing the city each day.
It is also working with developers to build rooftop landing pads and will also offer stops at sports arenas, the international airport and coastal suburbs of LA.
The ride-hailing firm doesn't plan on building the planes itself. Instead the fleet of electric jet-powered vehicles will be developed by existing aircraft manufacturers, including Aurora Flight Services.
Still many hurdles
The scheme still faces plenty of challenges, including certification of the new vehicle by authorities, pilot training and the creation of new air traffic management systems.
Earlier this year, the firm hired two NASA veterans to run its aircraft vehicle design team and its air traffic management software program.
Uber has faced dozens of regulatory and legal battles around the world since it launched its ride-hailing services in 2011. In London, it is battling to renew its license after city regulators refused to extend its authorization to operate, citing safety concerns.
The firm it said on Wednesday it was confident of achieving regulatory approval for its air service in the US and Europe.
mm/aos (AP, Reuters)