Uber announced Tuesday new partnerships with the cities of Dallas and Dubai, where the company plans to deploy Elevate—what it is billing as the world’s first commercially viable network of on-demand aircraft. The transportation giant is teaming with aviation companies including Aurora Flight Sciences and Bell Helicopter to develop the vehicles.

These aircraft, emissions-free and quiet enough to operate in cities, are more like drones than cars. A recent white paper Uber published explaining its vision for Elevate refers to the vehicles as “electric VTOLs,” standing for “vertical take-off and landing.”

The first Elevate demonstration is targeted for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. According to USA Today, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority is partnering with Uber to study regional demand for autonomous vehicles in support of the city’s self-driving transport strategy.

Although human pilots will retain complete control during early trial runs, Uber plans to equip its fleet of flying vehicles with autonomy over time as users and regulators become more comfortable with the technology.

The white paper reports that initially, automated technology would provide pilots with vehicle health monitoring, obstacle detection, and sense-and-avoid systems to prevent the VTOL from entering hazardous areas. In fact, Uber claims “autonomy provides greater levels of safety than human pilots.”

This isn’t Uber’s first foray into artificially intelligent vehicles. Last year, the company introduced self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Tempe, Ariz.

However, this news doesn’t mean we’ll all be cruising around in flying cars by the turn of the decade—regulatory hurdles regarding safety and reliability remain, and the technology has not been proven in inclement weather.

Uber hopes to have its flying taxis fully operational for public customers in Dallas and Dubai by 2023.

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Posted by Andrew Foerch