LISBON, Portugal (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Commuters of the future could get some relief from congested roads if Uber’s plans for flying taxis work out. The ride-hailing service on Wednesday unveiled an artist’s rendering of the sleek and futuristic machine that it hopes to start using for demonstration flights in 2020.
The battery-powered aircraft looks like a cross between a small plane and a helicopter, with both fixed wings and rotors. The rendering was presented at an international technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Uber is aiming to have its first paying passengers in various cities around the world by 2023, though the plan still faces major hurdles.
The aircraft is intended to soar over traffic congestion, sharply reducing city travel times. Uber hopes that the flying taxis will eventually become a form of mass transport, and cost commuters less than using their own car, though initially it will be more expensive than that, Uber’s chief product officer Jeff Holden said.
“Imagine if you get up in the morning and go on a six-minute flight, versus an hour in a car and wasting time,” Holden said.
Uber initially presented the ‘Uber Elevate’ concept in October 2016 and, this past April, held an Elevate Summit in Dallas. The company spent three days meeting with experts in aviation technology, venture capital, vehicle manufacturing and regulation, to discuss the realities of flying cars.
The plan still faces plenty of challenges, including certification of the new vehicle by authorities, pilot training and conceiving urban air traffic management systems that prevent collisions. But the company has already teamed up with the cities of Dallas and Dubai to help bring this futuristic idea to life.
Uber is also joining NASA’s project to expand air traffic systems.
Holden told The Associated Press that he has no dollar figure for the total investment. He said that Uber is putting some of its own money into the project, developing software, while other investors are also involved, such as aircraft manufacturers that are developing the vehicle and real estate companies that are providing ‘skyports’ where people will catch a flying taxi.
“We’re doing what we call ‘big bold bets,'” Holden added. “If you’re not planting the seeds for five to 10 years out, you’re not going to have a company in 10 years.”
Uber is keen to move past a troubled period, where its image had been damaged by investigations that found rampant sexual harassment of employees and multiple reports of drivers assaulting passengers. Holden said that those episodes did not slow development of the flying taxi project.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)