When Uber first announced its flying taxi project last April, the ride-hailing service said it would begin testing the aircrafts in Dubai and Texas by 2020. Now, the company responsible for making the vehicles that may help bring Uber’s Jetsonian vision to life has provided its take on when we could actually see large, people-filled drones zooming through the skies.
Bell Helicopter showed the cabin for their flying taxi concept at CES 2017. Photo: Bell Helicotper
Last April, Uber revealed it would work with aircraft manufacturers such as Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Helicopter, Embraer, Mooney and Pipistrel to build flying taxis that the ride hailing service could use to fulfil at least part of the utopian sci-fi future we were promised.
Among the more promising partners is Bell, one of the largest developers of vertical takeoff aircrafts in the US. At the time, Bell CEO Mitch Snyder told The Verge that he couldn’t say much other than that Bell was excited about the collaboration and would “provide safe vehicles going forward”. At CES in January, Bell revealed its “Urban Air Taxi” concept – a four-seater cabin complete with “a full suite of connectivity technologies such as video calling, Wi-Fi, artificial intelligence and wireless charging”.
Bell’s site explains its vision for the rotorcraft:
Now we’re expanding the scope of air travel and aviation technology to advance life’s conveniences. From shaving precious minutes off a cross-town commute for your cannot-miss meeting to that last-minute tee time with friends (with room for your clubs!) – Bell’s on-demand Urban Air Taxi concept makes the previously unthinkable a viable solution to your busy life.
Today in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Singapore Airshow, Patrick Moulay, Bell’s executive vice president for commercial helicopter sales said the company believes its air taxis will be operational within about the next seven years. “For the air taxi, we believe that by the mid-2020s, or maybe 2025, we will be there flying, we will see the first aircraft flying,” Moulay said. “Air taxi is the next way for our industry, and it’s very important for us to make sure we are among the disrupters to think about what should be transportation in the next 10 to 20 years.”
It’s worth noting that while Bell is collaborating with Uber on the Uber Elevate program, Moulay did not specifically refer to Uber’s air taxi plans, but seemed to be speaking about the air taxi industry at large.
Uber declined to comment on Moulay’s statment. “Our team is heads down preparing for demonstrations in select cities in 2020,” a spokesperson said.
A 2025 goal, even a loose one, may sound ambitious, but it’s still a more cautious estimate than the typical, absurd, recurring refrain that away.
Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden announced in November that the company was developing software to manage flying taxi routes, proving that the company is at least considering the logistical trainwreck that could ensue if Uber started populating the skies with pilotless flying pods.