Uber unveils models of its flying taxis designed for 'regular people'

Full-size design models of Uber's flying taxi.               CBS News

In the race to deploy autonomous driving technology to chauffeur passengers wherever they might go by road, Uber's Elevate division is also looking to gain an edge in the air by becoming the first company to bring similar self-driving technology to its fleet of flying taxis as early as 2020.

Uber was scheduled to meet with USA transportation and safety officials this week at its second annual Elevate Summit. Although Uber has no plans to build vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) themselves, the company is striking partnerships with aviation manufacturers, battery companies and others who could make it possible to summon a flying taxi via the Uber app.

Ultimately, Uber wants to make its service, to be known as Uber Air, a drone-based system that won't require pilots.

Uber has shared more details on a flying auto that could eventually transport you around cities. It faces competition from other companies that are working to launch flying taxi services like Airbus, Boeing, and Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google founder Larry Page. A single rotor on the tail will move the flying auto forward.

"Achieving ultra-low noise is one of the critical obstacles" to deploying aerial taxis in urban areas, Rob McDonald, head of vehicle engineering for Uber Elevate, the company's flying auto operation, said in an interview. By then, Uber hopes to ramp up to "automotive-scale manufacturing" of air taxis, said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer. At higher altitudes (1,000-2,000 feet) a propeller in the back of the craft takes over, allowing it to fly like an airplane-which is faster and more energy efficient than staying in helicopter mode.

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Uber has been working on a flying vehicle concept for quite some time.

In the CBS interview, Khosrowshahi said Uber was conducting a "top-to-bottom audit of our procedures, training, software, hardware, what our practices are".

"Uber is proud to be partnering with ARL on critical research on flying vehicle innovations that will help create the world's first urban aviation rideshare network", said Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate.

Khosrowshahi took over a company in crisis when he replaced Travis Kalanick as CEO in August. Its autonomous vehicle program has stalled, following a fatal collision with a pedestrian in March.

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