Self-driving cars just aren’t enough.
Uber, the ride-hailing taxi service, is apparently seriously exploring whether it can develop aircraft that could take off and land without a runway, and fly passengers autonomously to wherever they want to go.Recode reported Sunday (Sept. 25) that Uber’s head of product, Jeff Holden, said the company was looking into developing technology like this.
According to Holden, the company is looking into what are called VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, which might sound a bit like a helicopter, but they generally refer to planes with fixed wings. There aren’t a lot of these types of aircraft out there, because it takes a large amount of energy to get a plane off the ground without giving it a running start—you’ve either got to use jet engines (like the Harrier Jump Jet) or massive propellers (like the V-22 Osprey). While there are some companies that are looking into building small drones for delivery that operate this way—as they would provide greater time in the air, and you don’t need a lot of space to land them—there aren’t too many projects like this for human-shaped cargo. The Pentagon is in theprocess of designing a drone rather like the one Uber apparently is working on, but the military’s drone is still very much in the concept phase. (Uber declined to comment.)