Right this very minute, there is no such thing as a flying taxi, but some well known aviation companies — like Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer — are exploring the idea. So are startups like Lilium, Volocopter, and Lindbergh. Why is there so much interest in flying taxis? It’s the same reason that people like Elon Musk are focused on digging underground tunnels everywhere — traffic. Incessant, non-stop traffic in global cities that makes getting from point A to point B a purgatory for commuters.
Uber is also firmly committed to the idea of ferrying folks around in flying vehicles. And while some companies are thinking they will need onboard range-extending engines to make commercial service a realistic possibility, Uber is dedicated to the idea that its vertical takeoff and landing aircraft will be powered solely by electricity. To make that happen, it needs to create new batteries with higher energy density and lighter weight. To help accomplish that goal, it has hired Celina Mikolajczak, a senior battery engineer who previously worked for Tesla.
According to The Verge, Mikolajczak was in charge of battery cell quality and materials analysis while at Tesla. Her duties also included responsibility for battery cell production and design improvements. Now she is director of engineering and energy storage systems at Uber, where she will work with Mark Moore, the former chief technologist for on-demand mobility at NASA’s Langley Research Center who moved to Uber a year ago.
Uber says it will introduce its VTOL flying taxi service in Dubai, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Los Angeles in the next few years. Dubai is a leader in the field and is already testing a two-passenger electric drone in its quest to become the most “future oriented” region in the world. That device is not a VTOL aircraft like the one Uber is pursuing, but rather a large 18 rotor drone that flies autonomously.
Will flying people movers become the elevators of the future? Will they service only the wealthy, or will they offer a realistic means of avoiding traffic for all? One has to wonder just how many people per hour these devices can transport and where companies will find space in congested downtown areas to land all these flying vehicles. Compared to buses and subways, the capacity of flying taxi systems would seem to be quite limited. Nonetheless, at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017, several respected tech investors claimed flying taxis are the real deal and will attract lots of investment dollars in the next few years. “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.