Uber Elevate: It’s Closer than You Think

Eric Allison, Uber‘s Head of Aviation Programs, says that using drones to solve daily transportation issues is closer than most people think.

In an address this morning at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference, Allison says that Uber is getting ready to solve transportation problems in new ways. “We’re inspired by the fact that in many places around the world, mobility isn’t getting better.”

Uber’s plans are broad and encompass not only drones, but other ground-based transportation systems. “We don’t think small,” says Allison.  “We are transitioning from being all about car rides to being a multi-modal platform.”

Showing a bleak picture of traffic on Los Angeles freeways during last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, Allison points out that there is only so much volume that typical infrastructure can handle.  “Ground based transportation solutions can’t be built up more and more and more,” he says. “We need to take advantage of the third dimension…We need to think up.”

Uber is using all of the tools that their position as a world leading transportation company provides to build out the program they call Uber Air.  They are using the massive data set they have on transportation patterns to define the framework of their planned solution.  They’re using their significant development chops to work on perfecting a platform that will make air transportation – or combinations of air and ground transportation – available to consumers.  The company’s deep pockets allow for the necessary investment in hardware technologies.

“There need to be several innovations – first is the multi-modal platform that we are building right now,” says Allison. Uber is working on expanding their innovative platform to encompass not just car rides but other modes of transportation, including bicycles and air vehicles.  When it comes to those air vehicles, Uber is partnering with a variety of aerospace companies to develop a VTOL vehicle that can overcome the limitations of using helicopters for transportation at scale: noise and cost.  And they are thinking of innovative ways to handle the volume of air traffic that an Uber-scale implementation implies, working with NASA on platforms to manage thousands of flights each day in a city’s airspace.

One of the potential designs for an Uber Skyport, designed as part of a solution to handle hundreds of flights every hour.

“To manage that density of vehicles we have to have new approaches, and new solutions for airspace management,” says Allison.  While the sheer scale of Uber’s plans are stunning, so is their expected timeframe.  The company’s investment and development is far enough along so that they expect to see implementation of Uber Air Commercial Service in just 5 years – 2023.

“We think its closer than you think,” says Allison.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Email Miriam

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