The new way to beat traffic and shop for groceries

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The new way to beat traffic and shop for groceries

By Mike Troy - 08/12/2019
There are many challenges to be resolved, but summoning an urban air taxi will someday feel as normal as taking an Uber does today.

If you haven’t heard of electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles and reduced rotor operating speed aircraft you will. Uber Technologies is investing billions and working with a startup called Jaunt Air Mobility to design autonomous flying machines that improve how people and packages seamlessly move within urban environments.

The concept of autonomous aircraft sharing the skies above cities, long the stuff of science fiction movies, is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Uber is already working with companies like Jaunt, Boeing, Embraer and Bell and has a goal to launch in Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia in 2023.

Uber also recently held its third annual Elevate conference in Washington, D.C. which is where it unveiled the partnership with Jaunt, a pioneer in reduced Rotor Operating Speed Aircraft (ROSA) that combines the best features of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The companies’ goal is to develop an electric vertical takeoff and landing air taxi.

“Martin Peryea, Jaunt’s Chief Technology Officer, has led many helicopter development programs as a chief engineer and brings invaluable insights to developing low noise, reliable, and safe aircraft,” said Uber Elevate Director of Engineering Mark Moore. “I look forward to seeing what our teams accomplish together as we aim to accelerate Jaunt’s commercialization efforts.”

Interest in the concept of autonomous aircraft and potential uses cases is intensifying and government regulators are vowing to facilitate the advancement. Roughly 1,200 people attended Uber’s third annual Elevate Summit recently, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who shared surprising details on the state of transportation innovation.

More than 1,400 autonomous vehicles are being tested in the U.S. by more than 80 companies in 36 states. There are more than 1.39 million registered drones in the U.S., of which more than 372,000 are registered for commercial use. And there are more than 136,000 certified drone pilots – nearly triple the number in 2017, according to Chao.

Aero-Taxis, as she called the autonomous aircraft, are part of the transformational innovation shaping the movement of people and packages. To work through the many thorny issues relating to large unmanned vehicles flying above cities, the Department of Transportation created a group in April called the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technologies Council to coordinate the review of new technologies.

Someday, summoning an urban air taxi or having a package delivered by an autonomous aircraft will seem as normal as using a handheld device to request a ride from a stranger.