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Because self-driving cars are so been there, (almost) done that, Uber is setting its sights higher.

In a 98-page white paper and accompanying Medium article by Uber Product Chief Jeff Holden, the company outlines ambitions to get on-demand flying vehicles off the ground.

Holden believes “a network of small, electric aircraft that take off and land vertically (called VTOL aircraft for Vertical Take-off and Landing, and pronounced vee-tol)” will revolutionize the way urbanites commute.

A vision of Uber Elevate from Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden's Medium post.
A vision of Uber Elevate from Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden’s Medium post.

It’s important to note that Uber has no plan to build the vehicles itself. Instead, the company hopes its research and input can accelerate the development of the technology so it can later provide the infrastructure to deploy it.

“Rather than manufacture VTOL hardware ourselves, we instead look to collaborate with vehicle developers, regulators, city and national governments, and other community stakeholders, while bringing to the table a very fertile market of excited consumers and a clear vehicle and operations use case,” Holden writes.

Remarkably, Uber says the VTOL network, called Elevate, could launch in the next 10 years.

“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,” writes Holden.

That’s a big “if.” He identifies numerous barriers including regulation, battery technology, vehicle efficiency and reliability, air traffic control, cost, safety, noise, emissions, and infrastructure, as obstacles to getting the program off the ground. Given those challenges, it’s hard to imagine Holden’s 10-year plan is very realistic.

Regulation, in particular, is unlikely to adapt as quickly as Uber would like. The company has butted heads with regulators all over the U.S. and its last attempt to break into aviation didn’t go so well.

Still, cooperation from NASA and the FAA has Uber optimistic about the future of on-demand air travel.

Uber predicts shorter commutes via VTOL.
Uber predicts shorter commutes via VTOL.

The aircraft identified in the paper would use electric propulsion to eliminate emissions and would be quiet enough to fly in cities without disturbing people. Eventually, Holden says, they will be at least partially autonomous.

“We also believe that in the long-term, VTOLs will be an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car,” Holden writes.

For more on Uber’s wild vision for Elevate, read Holden’s Medium post here and the full white paper here.

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