Commuters of the future could get some relief from congested roads if Uber's plans for flying taxis work out. The ride-hailing service unveiled Wednesday an impression of the sleek, futuristic machine it hopes to start using for demonstration flights in 2020. The company aims to have its first paying passengers in various cities around the world by 2023, though the plan still faces major hurdles. The battery-powered aircraft looks like a cross between a small plane and a helicopter, reports the AP, with fixed wings and rotors. It was presented at a technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The vehicle is intended to soar over traffic congestion, sharply reducing city travel times. Uber hopes it 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, says Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer.
The scheme still faces plenty of challenges, including certification by authorities, pilot training, and conceiving urban air traffic management systems that prevent collisions. Holden says that Uber is joining NASA's project to expand air traffic systems, which scores of other companies already belong to. He notes he has no dollar figure for the total investment and says that Uber is putting some of its own money into the project. Other investors are also involved, such as aircraft manufacturers that are developing the vehicle and real estate companies that are providing so-called "skyports" where people will catch their airborne taxi. Uber is keen to move on from a troubled period that included rampant sexual harassment of employees and multiple reports of drivers assaulting passengers. Holden says those episodes didn't slow the flying taxi project.