When you pull out your phone to order an Uber in ten years’ time, you’ll probably get a car that drives itself. Then again, you might not get a car at all. The taxi-hailing app is working on technology that would allow for airborne passenger drones that would take users short distances around cities. Speaking at Recode, Jeff Holden, Uber’s head of product, said that the company is researching “Vertical take-off and landing” (VTOL) technology. Unlike helicopters, VTOL drones have fixed wings like planes, enabling them to fly silently and take off and land vertically.
Amazon’s delivery drones – currently being tested – use similar technology to cut down on noise and extend their range. Holden said that Uber wants to “offer our customers as many options as possible to move around” and that the technology would be available within a decade. “It would change cities and how we work and live,” he said, pointing out that taking traffic off the road and into the air would dramatically cut down on congestion. He stated that he expects Uber aircraft would take off and land from the roofs of buildings.
While the idea seems far-fetched, Uber is not the only company researching manned passenger drones. Ehang, a Chinese company, unveiled the 184 (pictured), an autonomous quadcopter drone designed to carry a single passenger. The 184 is expected to be released in early 2017 and is projected to cost US$300,000. Google-founder Larry Page is also a big believer, pledging US$100 million of his own money into start-ups developing this technology.