Journalist Kara Swisher of Recode interviewed Uber’s head of products, Jeff Holden, who said that the company was actively researching short-distance flight technology for use in urban areas. The vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technology is a hovering aircraft that can takeoff and land vertically, necessary for applications in or near populous areas. Helicopters – which Uber has used before – have VTOL technology, but Uber is looking at vehicles that look a lot more like drones – complete with multi-rotors.
Holden predicted during the interview that VTOL technology could be used in the next 10 years. While the current regulatory environment would seem to make that unlikely, the technology doesn’t seem that far off. The idea of “autonomous aerial vehicles” or passenger drones isn’t new; Ehang introduced it’s prototype in January of this year – although the company has admitted that they don’t have a real drone at this point – and the military is also heavily invested in research for passenger drones.
Even the regulations may come together sooner than you think. The FAA’s efforts toward “integration” of commercial drones means developing a system that allows drones to fly and communicate with other aircraft; and while integration is a broad concept and a vast project, when completed to allow flight over people and around buildings, the applications for commercial drones may be almost limitless.
Uber is at the leading edge of new vehicle technology, as demonstrated by their recent introduction of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, and the company has lofty aspirations: Holden told Swisher that Uber’s goal was to eliminate private car ownership. Passenger drones have the potential to do more than that – eliminating the urban traffic jam could be one of the greatest accomplishments of technology yet.