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Uber’s Flying Car Idea Is Pretty Sweet

A few months ago, I attended an event where a number of officials, tech folks and other interested parties got together to talk about the future of transportation, especially within cities. The event was “Moving Humans – Smarter Mobility for Smart Cities’ and there was a ton of talk around car sharing, bike sharing, public transportation, and other ways of moving people to, from and within cities. A pretty powerful topic in this is most urban areas, where it takes hours to commute short distances during rush hours. Studies have shown that long commute times lead to all sorts of stress, marriage and family breakdown and physical issues. In this areas alone, due to the high cost of housing, there are people who sit in their 2 hours a day, each way.

While there were a lot of great solutions out there, they all focused on a few things, both of which, in my mind, run to the core of innovation and disruption: thinking about the symptom and coming up with solutions to solve the symptom, not solutions to solve the problem, mostly because those seem hard and unimplementable.

For example, I had a great conversation with someone there about public transit and the billions of dollars spent on public transit, shuttling people from one side of the city to the other for work, which may address the problem of moving people from point A to point B, but never asks the question, why do we need to move people from point A to point B? If most of your workers don’t do physical work which requires physical presence, why not let most of them work from home? Why not become more of a virtual organization?

But let’s say that for some reason you still need to get people from point A to point B. Most solutions look at making the flow of traffic more efficient, moving to more autonomous vehicles. That works great, but won’t happen for a long time – I forsee at least a generation of people not wanting to give up their ability to drive. So while we have humans and autonomous vehicles on the road, we will still have traffic. Instead of your commute going to nothing, it may be 75% of what it was.

Once again, we need to think big and disruptively. Right after one of the speakers had made an impassioned plea for autonomous vehicles, I thought to myself. “we don’t need autonomous cars, what we really need is autonomous flying cars”. Think about it for a second. All of that tech that you would need to concern yourself with if you were on the road will just go away – you don’t need the level of sensors and smarts and split-second timing which you have to have while you are on the ground in the air. Sure, there are plenty of other hurdles to leap, but if you ask me, it’s probably much easier to build a vehicle which has a much lesser chance of crashing into other vehicles if it can use all of that space over our heads.

Now Uber has announced a new service to promote the flying car, called Uber Elevate. They very smartly are starting to have the conversation about autonomous flying vehicles, something I’ve talked about for a long time. This is part of what proves Uber’s disruptive mettle: they are willing to think big. If anyone can make the flying car happen, it will be them.

We can see the future – all we have to do is look up.