In ‘Back to the Future Part II’ when Marty McFly is sent 30 years into the future, he arrives at a time when people ride hover-boards to zip around, they wear self-lacing shoes and flying cars are everywhere.
The date in the movie? October 21, 2015.
Cut to the present, and we’re just three years behind schedule. And like an advertisement in the movie says, ‘now you don’t have to worry about traffic’.
Worsening traffic conditions, the world over
Do you know that peak hour traffic in major Indian cities almost doubles the amount of time spent travelling, especially on the more popular routes? It is no thanks to these conditions that India holds the dubious distinction of being the most traffic-afflicted city in Asia. But misery seeks company, and you will find solace in knowing that this is not just the terrible truth of our lives in India; other countries, including the United States of America, fare no better.
Is this to be our fate, forever? Is this the price for wanting to live and work in some of the more bustling cities in the world?
Perhaps not; not if Uber had its way. If you’ve been following the news over the last few months you must have come across Uber’s Flying Taxis. And India has been selected as one of the 5 countries that Uber plans to test-launch its Flying Taxis.
The future is already here
Yes, flying cabs will no longer be restricted to sci-fi films. The day isn’t far when you will be able to book a cab and see your ride come flying down from the skies instead of from down the road.
Besides the US, Uber Elevate – as the program is called – will bring these flying taxis to India, Japan, Australia, Brazil and France.
Uber Elevate will rise above traffic congestion, literally, and a commute that now takes a few hours will be completed in a matter of minutes. It promises to be an innovative transportation solution that will ease traffic instead of adding to it.
Currently the plan is undergoing a feasibility study, and if all goes well, Indian cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru will see the pilot project in about 5 years.
Uber isn’t doing this all alone. The company has already partnered with Audi to develop flying cars, and it is also in the process of joining forces with several automakers, real estate developers and technology giants to turn this plan into reality.
How will it work?
Once in place, customers will be able to push a button and get a flight on demand. The initial fares are projected at Rs 200 for a kilometer, but those could very quickly fall to as low as Rs 50 a kilometer.
The taxi concept is purely electric, and each cab will be able to seat 4 people, besides the pilot, all in one file in a cylindrical body with large windows. You need the view, however short the ride, right?
The flying taxis will take off from sky ports built on top of high rises which will also function as taxi stations. The taxi will cruise between 150 to 200 miles an hour, at a flying height of 2000 ft. The cab will be able to cover 60 miles (about 96 kilometers) in one charge, and the technology is such that it will take just a little over 5 minutes to top up the batteries between flights.
Before you take off
However, and yes, there is a however, there are challenges to be overcome before this dream takes off in India.
For starters, this isn’t yet a mass market idea. The initial target will be high-income people. Yes, Uber will eventually introduce off-peak time to encourage greater consumer adoption, but that is still a long way off.
Then there are infrastructural issues. Since the concept is entirely electrical, India will need to up the ante on its electrical grid structures and capabilities in offering battery-charging stations. There is also the rather large need for building sky ports, a herculean task indeed.
And finally, even after landing at a port, commuters will still need to find transport that will connect them to their destination. India’s severely challenged public transport system will need a complete makeover to match up to this project.
Uber has a selection criteria and India meets the requirements on all counts: sizeable market, local commitment and enabling conditions. It is, therefore, simply a matter of time before India’s traffic problems, at least in the larger cities, could soon be a thing of the past.