Author Mark Richards

The world around us is set to change rapidly. Uber may have plans for flying taxis but they are only the beginning…

Master Yoda is speaking to the Jedi Council. But you are not paying attention to what he is saying. You are looking past him, out of the window to the city beyond, where hundreds of space cruisers glide past the windows, miraculously missing each other.

It might be “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” – but it looks suspiciously like a motorway and a glimpse of the future. “But not in my lifetime,” you think as the DVD finishes. “Not for hundreds of years.”

Think again.

…Because if Uber has their way, we could all be riding around in flying taxis in less than ten years.

Could we be calling flying taxis?

We have all heard of Uber, the ride-sharing app – or ‘transportation network company’ as Wiki now describes it – founded eight years ago by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp and now supposedly worth $68 billion.

Uber has had its fair share of negative publicity: Travis Kalanick was recently filmed swearing at one of the company’s drivers. And several cities have partially – or completely – banned the app.

Nevertheless, every time there is a new round of financing the value of the company increases, with the $2.1bn raised in 2015 making the company worth more than GM, Ford and Honda.

…And if Uber successfully launches flying taxis and cars? Then – to use a well-worn cliché – the sky will really be the limit for the valuation. Uber has announced plans to partner with plane manufacturers to design and test a range of flying cars by 2020 – just three years away – with trials promised in Dallas and Dubai.

Uber are working with Bell Helicopter and Embraer and, while the technology is largely unproven, Uber believes that a) it is feasible and b) ultimately rides will cost roughly the same as a car ride. Apparently, the electric vehicles will take off and land vertically (like a helicopter) but without emissions and with minimal noise.

Mind you, there is no mention of having to run 30 yards in a crouching position to escape the downdraft from the rotor blades…

Uber’s ultimate goal is

“to allow customers in the future to push a button and get a high-speed flight in and around cities.”

Well, we will not have to wait long to find out: the company is targeting the 2020 World Expo in Dubai to launch the first Uber Elevate Network demonstration.

Potential safety problems

Obviously Uber, just like the early pioneers of aviation, will need to convince both passengers and transport authorities that the technology is safe: and there remain huge questions over how to regulate the testing and introduction of the ‘air taxi.’

Make no mistake though – our sky is going to get cluttered. If air taxis ‘take off’ transport authorities will need to determine who has ‘right of way’ in our skies – vehicles carrying people, or the squadrons of unmanned drones which will be delivering all our parcels from Amazon.

Here come the drones…

Flying Taxis: A Glimpse of the Future

Like many companies, Amazon sees a huge potential for drone deliveries as the line between science fiction and fact rapidly disappears. The company has plans for a giant airship warehouse and is now exploring the possibility of packages being dropped by parachute into our back gardens.

…And then there are the industrial applications of drones. After all, why send a man up in a cherry picker when you can use a drone to inspect the underside of the bridge? Companies like Sky Futures are already using drones extensively for ‘data collection and delivery.’ The applications throughout the industry are numerous: the construction industry, oil and gas, renewable energy, utilities and telecoms installations is just the start of the list.

No need to learn to drive?

It is not just in the air that change is happening. Last year Otto and Budweiser completed the first delivery by driverless truck: 120 miles without a driver in the front seat. In the UK, a consortium of companies have launched a 30-day autonomous vehicle (driverless car to you and me) trial which will ultimately see a fleet of vehicles travelling from London to Oxford – unless, of course, they try and leave London at 4 pm on a Friday…

The project – imaginatively called ‘Driven’ – is being funded by a £8.6m grant from the government and is led by Oxbotica, a company which specialises in autonomous vehicles. The four vehicles that will be used in the test will be operating at what is known as ‘level 4’ autonomy –which is to say that they can monitor all safety-critical features and road conditions for the whole journey.

Inevitably – just like with the air taxis – there are many, many hurdles to overcome, not least the problem of insurance. Whose fault is it if an autonomous vehicle hits you? But Oxbotica’s consortium – which includes Oxfordshire County Council and Transport for London – are confident that the problems can be overcome. “We are confident that this trial will radically transform how the insurance industry and autonomous vehicles can work together,” said a spokesman for the company.

“We are confident that this trial will radically transform how the insurance industry and autonomous vehicles can work together,”

said a spokesman for the company.

Graham Smith, Oxbotica’s CEO, was even more bullish:

“No group of autonomy experts have ever attempted what Driven is planning over the next 30 months,” he said. “We are seeking to address the fundamental challenges surrounding the future commercial deployment of fully autonomous vehicles. I have full confidence [that] we will deliver.”

Undeniably, the world around us is changing and it is changing rapidly. Ten years from now you may well come home in an air taxi and then spend the evening reading a book that has just parachuted into your garden – and be drinking a Bud delivered by a driverless truck.

Short flight

Keep an eye out for some amazing things coming from the TED Vancouver talk – it's been and continues to be a big week for us!Thank you all for watching, sharing our flight videos and messaging – we can't wait to keep sharing our development with you.

Posted by Gravity Industries on Tuesday, 25 April 2017

So let me leave you with a glimpse of that future as a real life Iron Man demonstrates his flying suit. It may not whizz you round Dubai or Dallas, but it looks like a sure fire way to clean the patio…