Uber bets on flying taxis after closing self-driving car site following fatal crash

The billion-dollar startup is betting self-flying taxis might be safer

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 24 May 2018 16:39
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Uber is shutting down its self-driving car test site in Arizona but launching a research centre in Paris for flying taxis
Uber is shutting down its self-driving car test site in Arizona but launching a research centre in Paris for flying taxis

Uber’s ambitions to create a network of self-driving taxis has suffered a major set back, after the firm’s Arizona test was forced to close down following a fatal crash.

The announcement came as the ride-hailing company launched a new research centre in Paris for flying taxis as part of its Elevate initiative.

Uber has not completely abandoned its plans to develop self-driving cars, announcing that it would resume tests in Pennsylvania later this year.

The test site in Tempe, Arizona, was put on hold in March after an autonomous Uber was involved in a fatal collision with a pedestrian.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family,” Uber said in a statement at the time. “We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”

Several other firms, including Lilium and AeroMobil, are already working on flying taxi concepts, with some hailing the vehicles as a solution to overcrowded roads.

Others are more sceptical of the technology, however, with famed futurist Elon Musk recently warning that fleets of flying cars would be a significant threat to the safety of people on the ground.

“There will be zillions of these things flying all over the place and, inevitably, somebody’s not going to service their car properly and they’re going to drop a hubcap and it’s going to guillotine somebody,” Musk told a crowd at the LEo Baeck Temple synagogue in LA, at an event to discuss his proposal for eliminating traffic: Tunnels.

A model of Uber's electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle concept (eVTOL) flying taxi is displayed at the second annual Uber Elevate Summit, on May 8, 2018 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, California. Uber introduced it's electric powered 'flying taxi' vertical take-off and landing concept aircraft at the event, which showcases prototypes for UberAir's fleet of airborne taxis.

Uber's new Advanced Technologies Centre in Paris hopes to prove Musk wrong, with a €20 million investment over five years being used to also develop smart grids used to improve the safety of autonomous vehicles both on the ground and in the air.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said: "With world-class engineers and a leading role in global aviation, France is the perfect place to advance our Uber Elevate programme and new technology initiatives."

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