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Uber to make Dubai’s flying taxi dreams come true by 2020

Dubai residents have long dreamt of beating the traffic in a flying car, and that dream is about to come true.

Uber Technologies’ Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden revealed plans to introduce its flying taxis in the US and Dubai by 2020 at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas on Tuesday.

Uber, which has partnered with the Dubai government, expects to conduct passenger flights as part of the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.

Uber’s flying taxis will be small, electric aircrafts that take off and land vertically. These will have zero emissions and are quiet enough to operate in cities.

In an early scale operation, the company can get to $1.32 per passenger mile, a little higher than taking an UberX for a similar distance, Holden said at the summit.

In the long term, Uber expects the cost of taking flying taxis to fall below car ownership.

The company is working with Hillwood Properties to make four vertiports – VTOL hubs with multiple takeoff and landing pads, and charging infrastructure – in Dallas starting next year, Holden said.

Uber, valued at $68 billion, has also teamed up with companies such as Bell Helicopter, Aurora, Pipistrel, Mooney and Embraer to make the flying taxis.

The company has also partnered with U.S. electric vehicle charging station maker ChargePoint Inc. Uber is working on developing an exclusive charger for its network.

The ride-hailing service has recently been rocked by a number of setbacks, including detailed accusations of sexual harassment from a former female employee and a video showing Chief Executive Travis Kalanick harshly berating an Uber driver.

Dubai’s flying cars

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said in February that it will not commence commercial service of driverless flying taxis until it gets a safety certification.

Earlier in February, the RTA in collaboration with China’s Ehang Company announced it had carried the first test run of an autonomous aerial vehicle capable of carrying a human and would put it in operation by July.

After launching the 2017-2021 digital strategy, Mattar Al Tayer, director general and chairman of RTA said: “Safety is our priority. The flying cars need to be certified before we put them into commercial operations. We are working on the certification process and have set up a committee. We hope to launch the service on a limited basis by July only if the certification procedure is completed and it is 100 percent safe.”

The RTA is also in talks with UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), the federal, autonomous body set up to oversee aviation-related activities in the country, for completion of the certification process.

The driverless flying taxis are part of Dubai government’s 2030 initiative, unveiled in April 2016, which aims to have 25 percent of the emirate’s transport to be autonomous by 2030 and generate economic revenues and savings of up to $5.99 billion (AED22 billion) a year.

Al Tayer said the RTA is testing the aerial vehicles but will soon set up a budget to buy these autonomous vehicles before starting the service. He added:

“At present, we are doing a trial run. In order to begin our commercial operations, we will need to give them a production timeline for 2017, 2018 and 2019.”

The EHANG184 vehicle is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots and has preset routes from which the rider can choose a destination. The vehicle will then start automatically, take off and cruise to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot.

The vehicle is fitted with eight main propellers, and in case of any failure in the first propeller, there would be seven other propellers ready to complete the flight. A ground control centre will monitor and control the entire operation, the RTA has said.

Uber’s Elevate initiative

Uber announced a series of partnerships with key companies and stakeholders in the burgeoning urban aviation ecosystem. The goal of these partnerships is to develop a new on-demand VTOL network to enable customers in the future to push a button and get a high-speed flight in and around cities. Uber’s new partners in its Elevate initiative include real estate companies, aircraft manufacturers, electric vehicle charger manufacturers and cities.

Uber’s first partner cities for its Elevate project are Dallas-Fort Worth,Texas and Dubai, UAE. In the United Arab Emirates, Uber recently entered into a partnership with the Dubai Road and Transport Authority who will be funding studies for demand modeling in the region to better understand pricing and network optimisation.

The goal of Uber’s partnerships, in both cities, is to have the first Uber Elevate Network demonstration by 2020. Dubai is hosting the 2020 World Expo and is striving to make the demonstration timed with that event.

In both cities, Uber is looking to develop infrastructure partnerships with local real estate companies to identify sites and construct vertiports for a future Uber Elevate Network. Uber is partnering with Hillwood Properties for Dallas-Fort Worth and planning to partner with several real estate companies in Dubai.

Uber is launching a partnership with ChargePoint to develop an exclusive VTOL charger for the Uber Elevate Network. Chief Product Officer at Uber Jeff Holden said: “What started as a simple question ‘why can’t I push a button and get a ride?’ has turned, for Uber, into a passionate pursuit of the pinnacle of urban mobility — the reduction of congestion and pollution from transportation, giving people their time back, freeing up real estate dedicated to parking and providing access to mobility in all corners of a city.

“Urban Aviation is a natural next step for Uber in this pursuit, which is why we are working to make push a button, get a flight a reality.  This is Uber Elevate, and we are excited to announce the first group of Elevate partners – a group of visionary industry and government leaders – with whom we will work closely to take that idea off of paper and into reality. Starting today, Dallas and Dubai are racing to the future and we can’t wait to see how on-demand VTOL flight accelerates these great cities.”

Uber entered into partnerships with several highly experienced aircraft manufacturers who are developing electric VTOL vehicles to help us achieve the Uber Elevate mission requirements.  With their extensive aircraft design and production experience, each of these companies bring unique expertise that will enable the shortest time to market for electric VTOLs.

These partners include Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer, Mooney, Bell Helicopter.