Taxi disruptor brand Uber has made waves the world over with its business model that allows people to use their own cars to provide a ride-sharing service.
With its slick app and ability to cater to a new generation of consumers, it’s shown time after time that its modern offering can be faster, more enjoyable and often more affordable than taxi services. Since its origins in 2009 and reaching its current format in 2012, it’s added various new services to its range, such as Uber Eats for example, but the next set of developments it is working on may have an even greater impact on the future.
Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group Centre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed a driverless car. The hybrid Ford Fusion has been driving around the city collecting mapping data and testing its self-driving capabilities. It’s all part of Uber ATG’s mission to “develop long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” says the ATG website.
Still in its test phase, the driverless car still has a trained driver behind the wheel monitoring operations, but outfitted with sensors, radars, laser scanners and high-resolution cameras, the brand is confident the driverless cars will make for safer roads in the very near future.
“Self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives and improve quality of life for people around the world, 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents, and 94 percent of those accidents involve human error,” the page says. That’s just the street level of Uber’s ambition.
In October last year, Uber released a white paper called ‘Fast-Forwarding to a Future of on-Demand Urban Air Transportation.’The paper laments the situation of the world’s city dwellers: cripplingly long daily commutes, hours spent in traffic. Uber’s city of the future is one with flying cars, the project being titled Uber Elevate.
“Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground.” The electric vehicles would ideally be able to vertically take off and land (VTOL) like a helicopter, and ideally enable rapid and reliable transportation between suburbs and cities, and within cities.
This month, Uber hired NASA engineer Mark Moore to work on Uber Elevate. “I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electronic VTOL market real,” says Moore. Bloomberg reports Moore had grown tired of the bureaucracy and management of NASA, and believes private sector leaders like Uber are better situated to lead the future on projects like this.
He’s aware of the many financial, technical and regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of the project, but says Uber, with its 55 million active riders, can uniquely demonstrate that there could be a massive, profitable and safe market. “If you don’t have a business case that makes economic sense, then all of this is just a wild tech game and not really a wise investment,” he says.
While the future of transport may be up in the air, one thing is certain: if you think you’ve already seen disruption, get ready to hold onto your seat.