Uber Opens Paris Research Center to Develop Flying Cars

The company is aiming for test flights in 2020.

byStephen Edelstein|
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Uber will open an "Advanced Technologies Center" in Paris that will, among other things, become a development hub for the ride-hailing company's flying car project, known as Uber Elevate. Uber previously said it wanted to begin demonstration flights in three cities in 2020.

The center will open this fall as Uber's first research and development site outside North America. It will initially focus specifically on Uber Elevate, developing artificial intelligence and airspace management systems to coordinate the movement of flying cars, Uber head of aviation programs Eric Allison said in a blog post.

Uber plans to begin demonstration flights in Dallas, Los Angeles, and a third city outside the United States in 2020. The company previously discussed Dubai as a possible third location, but the city was not mentioned in Uber's latest blog post. While Uber has enlisted the likes of NASA to help, we're a bit a skeptical about the company's ability to tackle such a big technical challenge in such a short period of time.

Uber wants its flying cars to be electric, and have some degree of autonomous capability. But that will require hardware that doesn't exist right now. Given the number of past failures, just developing a working flying car would be remarkable. But Uber is adding another level of complexity.

Companies have conducted tests of all-electric and hybrid aircraft, none has reached production yet. Achieving reasonable range will likely require a new generation of very energy-dense battery cells, presenting another technical challenge. Uber is having trouble perfecting autonomous operation of ground vehicles, so it's unclear if the company will be able to make that work in the sky.

If Uber can develop the vehicles, it will also need a robust air traffic management system for them. To help develop that, the company has partnered with France's École Polytechnique to endow an "International Academic and Research Chair of 'Integrated Urban Mobility.'" The chair will collaborate with the new Paris research center on projects related to traffic management, infrastructure, and regulations.

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