Reeling from weeks of multiple public relations crises, Uber on Tuesday successfully changed the topic when it revealed its ambitions to use electrically-propelled flying vehicles to transport riders to their neighboring cities quickly and cheaply as soon as 2020.

Through this effort, which is called the Uber Elevate Network, the company envisions scenarios wherein commuters could fly from San Francisco to San Jose in just 15 minutes at the same kind of pricing they pay now for UberX rides of similar duration. Ultimately, the company hopes to reduce the pricing further by using autonomous flying vehicles.

"We think we can start this for roughly the cost of UberX, and we think it'll get below the variable cost of car ownership," said Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer.

Uber unveiled these plans at a summit in Dallas, which will be one of the company's launch partner cities for these efforts along with Dubai. At the summit, Holden announced that Uber has also partnered with the likes of NASA, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to make its "big bold bet" a reality. Additionally, the company has partnerships in place with manufacturers of these all-electric vertical takeoff and landing planes, which are known as eVTOL. They are Pipistrel, Bell Helicopter, Aurora Flight Sciences, Embraer and Mooney.

Using eVTOLs is key to this initiative, Holden said. That's because other types of aerial vehicles, such as helicopters and combustion-based planes, are noisy and would cause a disturbance to communities. Instead, Uber hopes distributed electric propulsion technology will be key to providing quick and quiet flights.

"Flying cars have been promised for decades but are actually arriving now," Holden said. "We get to live in this era of flying cars."

In his talk, Holden placed a great deal of emphasis on the benefits that urban flights will provide to cities. This was surely no coincidence considering the fact that it was recently revealed that Uber had used special software to circumvent and evade law enforcement officials in cities across the globe. In a bid to rebuild goodwill with cities, Holden emphasized that the use of eVTOLs could reduce congestion, traffic and pollution.

"If we don't do something along these lines, cities are going to basically become unusable," Holden said. "It's going to be impossible to get around."

Published on: Apr 25, 2017