Uber plans to host a conference in May focusing on aviation and flying cars, suggesting that the “Uber Elevate” project is still going strong under the company’s new management and investors, according to Business Insider. The “Elevate Summit” is slated for May 8th and 9th in Los Angeles, one of three cities where the company plans to launch pilot projects for its aviation operations.
The invite-only event will include “announcements and demonstrations” as well as a discussion from the company’s executives of “what’s coming next for Uber Elevate,” according to an Uber spokesperson, speaking to Business Insider. The company launched a website for the event on Monday, which listed planned speakers, including new Uber employees with backgrounds ranging from Tesla, to NASA, to academia.
The event will follow up on initial discussions from the company last year, on plans for Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft for transport in urban areas. The vehicles would not require a runway, saving hours wasted commuting in many metropolitan areas. According to the company’s own white paper abstract, the “flying cars” could complete a commute from San Francisco to San Jose that now takes almost two hours, in only 15 minutes. A trip that takes 90 minutes or more, from central New Delhi to Gurgaon, could be cut down to just six minutes with VTOL aircraft. In 2017, average San Franciscans spent 230 hours commuting, collectively losing half a million hours of productivity each day.
Details were revealed about Uber’s project in November of last year, with pilot projects planned in Los Angeles, Dubai, and Dallas-Forth Worth by 2020. Commuters would book seats on VTOL aircraft via Uber’s app, before launching from “skyports” located on rooftops and other areas.
Following a range of controversies last year, CEO Travis Kalanick was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi last August. There was some question as to whether the company would continue to pursue futuristic projects such as self-driving and flying vehicles, but the plans for the upcoming conference suggest that it will.
Topics at the conference will include “Moving Cities,” “Airspace & Enabling Operations,” and “Vehicles, Batteries and Key Technologies.”
According to Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden, Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to facilitate an air traffic control system for the vehicles, which will fly at low altitude, perhaps even autonomously. Companies such as Boeing and Airbus, as well startups such as Kitty Hawk, are also developing projects moving toward flying cars.
According to Holden:
“There’s been a great deal of progress that’s been hard to see from the outside, because a lot of this is just hard work at the drafting table. We feel really good. It’s been a really interesting process getting our vehicle manufacturing partners aligned on performance specifications, so that they’re building vehicles that align with what we need to make Elevate successful.”