Washington DC - Uber unveiled its flying taxis on Tuesday – as executives claimed that travelling by air could one day be cheaper than owning a car.
The vehicles will be in the skies by 2023, with test trips due next year.
Ordering an UberAir, which look similar to helicopters, will (in some countries at least) soon be as easy as hopping into a car, according to one executive.
"The ever elusive flying car future we have all envisioned is one step closer," said Nikhil Goel, head of product for the company’s flying taxi arm, Uber Elevate.
Eric Allison, head of Elevate, said: "In the long term, UberAir on a per-seat basis will be competitive with car ownership.
"Our vision is that it will be more economically rational to fly than to drive."
This is what a ride will feel like (and you can toggle the view in the top left hand corner):
To ride the flying taxis, which will take off from skyports on top of car parks, skyscrapers or department stores, passengers will be weighed as they walk over square-shaped pads inside the terminals.
This will ensure the vehicle’s weight, including luggage, four passengers and pilot, is within restrictions. Each hour, an estimated 4000 people would land on each skyport. As with a traditional Uber, booking is via app, with boarding in minutes.
The jets will cruise at between 240km/h and 320km/h. With WiFi available, phones and laptops will be in use on trips of between eight and 20 minutes. Although riders will avoid traffic jams, most trips will require public transport from the skyport to final destination.
Uber has partnered with Californian company Safran Cabin to design an inside cabin. The doors slide open with one touch and luggage is stowed in a rack behind the seats.
Several other companies are creating models for use on the UberAir app. Bell’s high-tech model, which was also on display yesterday, features a touch screen on the ceiling to allow users to watch the news or monitor the speed.
Bells’ Michael Thacker said: "People want that sense of 'I am in something solid but I have a view of the world' – so you get the excitement without the fear." Bell’s flying taxi has six ‘ducts’, which look like large propellers, attached to the side. This means the jet makes less noise than a helicopter, Mr Thacker said.
In Uber’s model, the vehicle has grab-handles similar to those in normal taxis because rides are expected to be bumpier than on traditional planes. John Badalamenti, head of design at Uber Elevate, said: "At that altitude the flight quality will be very different. But it won’t be like a rollercoaster by any means."
UberAir will begin operating in Dallas and Los Angeles, and then launch in Melbourne, Australia.
The flying taxis are expected to reach Britain inside a decade – but the UK’s strict airspace rules may be a complication.
At this stage there is no word on when the taxis might be available in South Africa.