Australians are getting one step closer to travelling by drone, with the announcement that Uber Air is coming to Melbourne.
It’s the third city in the world to trial the air travel ride share service – behind Dallas and Los Angeles, with test flights to begin next year.
The drone-like technology will operate like a helicopter – in that they can take off and land vertically – but they will be fully electric and computer operated.
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They’ll reportedly cost about the same as Uber X vehicles to rent, per distance travelled.
It’s hoped the program will be fully operational once more research and development is carried out.
“The biggest hurdle to drones carrying people is safety.
“The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has been very progressive trialling drone technology and there are a number of drone trials happening in suburban Australia including Google’s Project Wing to deliver food, drinks and medication.
“But we need to prove to people that this technology can be as safe as helicopters, which regularly fly in our cities,” said Dr Matthew Marino – an aerospace engineer at RMIT.
The new technology, while exciting, is also raising questions over how it will be used and whether it will actually help manage urban transport problems.
Dr Chris De Gruyter from RMIT seems skeptical that the helicopter-like services could help with smaller trips around metripolitan Melbourne – given that more than half of ride share trips a day are less than 5km.
“Based on what travel survey data tells us, we might see skyports at key activity centres and employment hubs like the airport, Melbourne CBD and other key precincts like Clayton or Dandenong.
“But Uber Air isn’t going to help with managing our urban transport problems.
“These vehicles are very low capacity – similar to what a car could carry – while there are also questions about if these vehicles will create visual clutter in the sky and how environmentally-friendly they are.
“Another risk is ‘empty running’, where there are no passengers, but the vehicle has to travel to pick people up from another location,” Dr De Gruyter said.
Find out more in Uber’s explanatory video below.