UPDATED 12:42 EDT / MAY 24 2018

uber EMERGING TECH

Uber’s new research hub in Paris will develop technology for flying taxis

Uber Technologies Inc. today announced plans to establish a new engineering center that will focus on developing systems for its futuristic flying taxi program.

The lab, which is set to be based in Paris, will be the ride-hailing giant’s first research and development hub outside the United States. Uber plans to invest €20 million (or $23.4 million) into the center over the next five years to tackle the daunting technical challenges that will have to be overcome before flying taxis can take to the skies.

In the company’s official white paper for the project, it lists a total of 12 major stumbling blocks. Most are technical in nature, but not all. Uber will also have to contend with challenges as finding enough qualified pilots and securing regulatory approval from aviation authorities.

The project’s complexity is not surprising given the ambitious goals behind the effort. Uber envisions creating an air travel service that will be supported by thousands of quiet, electric-powered aircraft capable of taking off and landing vertically. The idea is to have these flying taxis transport passengers between rooftop “skyports” in busy cities to get around traffic.

Much of the work at Uber’s new Paris lab will focus on building the supporting infrastructure that a future fleet of flying taxis would require. The center’s initial priorities include, among other things, the development of systems for managing airspace use and analyzing user demand.

Uber plans to extend the scope of its research efforts drastically over time. Eric Allison, the head of the company’s aviation programs, listed fields as diverse as energy storage and autonomous flying among the center’s planned focus areas. The group intends to collaborate with France’s respected École polytechnique research university on a number of these projects.

“Delivering on our bold aspirations for the future will require working together with the best and brightest minds,” Allison said in today’s announcement. “As an institution at the cutting-edge of science and technology we are excited to work with École polytechnique to take urban mobility forward. Together we’ll work towards a future where anyone can get a flight at the push of a button.”

There’s no guarantee that Uber will successfully realize its grandiose vision for air travel. But at the very least, its investment in the new research hub shows that the company is determined to try.

Image: Uber

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