Uber plans to take its business airborne, adding a "third dimension" to its ridesharing services, but how exactly will these developments pan out?
The San Francisco-based company has given itself until 2023 to commercialise flying taxis, and next year it will begin trialling the technology.
Next month Uber will launch Uber Copter, an on-demand helicopter service which will connect commuters with both drivers and pilots for a short journey in New York City - the company says this is the first step in its plans to test and launch commercial flying taxi services in Melbourne, Los Angeles and Dallas by 2023.
Uber Copter's launch will start small, with just one route - from downtown Manhattan to Kennedy International Airport, which the company says will take 30 minutes in total including ground transportation.
The helicopters will be operated by New Jersey-based HeliFlite with a fleet of twin-engined helicopters. The average ride will cost between US$200 ($305) and US$225 per person and Uber claims it will cut the time taken on a traditional route to the airport in half.
To have a successful airborne taxi business Uber said it would adopt a "multi-modal" operational approach whereby it can connect users to both a helicopter and cars on the same trip to get customers from A to B efficiently.
For example, when Uber Copter is selected in the app, a car would pick up the rider and drop the person at the helipad. A driver may then pick the passenger up at the other end for the final leg of the journey.
Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate said data and insight collected from Uber Copter would be used to refine Uber's algorithms that predict how long it would take to get to a skyport - Uber's planned landing and take-off pads to be located on the tops of buildings or next to transport hubs, and finalise the company's strategy for the rollout of Uber Air.
In August last year, Uber shortlisted Japan, Australia, India, Brazil and France as countries to potentially launch Uber Air in. After looking into each country's population size, weather and regulations and society's willingness to adopt new technology it settled on Melbourne, Australia, for its first international launch city.
Prior to the final shortlist, Auckland had been considered as a trial city. However the company ruled that out due to the size of the market.
"I want to eventually be able to bring Uber Air there just like I want to bring it to many of the other markets that we have around the world but we wanted to start it in a place that had that demand density in the beginning, just because we need to build more momentum as we launch," Allison said.
Uber is now establishing partnerships with organisations and businesses in Melbourne to develop the infrastructure and telecommunication services needed to run Uber Air. It is further along the journey with this in Dallas and Los Angeles.
The company plans to hire a full-time employee in Australia dedicated to building Uber's partnerships with organisations on the ground there and to be a point of contact for the local partners coming on board with its plans for Uber Air.
Uber this week signed a memorandum of understanding with the State Government of Victoria. It has also partnered with Macquarie, Telstra and Westfield shopping centre owner and operator Scentre Group, along with Melbourne Airport, to create the infrastructure services needed to create an urban aviation network for its flying taxis.
Uber has been working with the Australian Government for quite some time. Together, Uber and the Australian Government have already launched Ferry Connect, Uber Boat, the Night Rider public transport system connected to Uber and most recently ScUber, a submarine rideshare service on Great Barrier Reef.
"We're starting to really prepare the ground and figure out what that strategy looks like for deployment in the 2023 timeframe."
Uber is currently in the early stages of assessing the possibilities of electric aircraft charging stations and skyports at Scentre Group properties. The company is looking at the possibilities of this at an initial seven Scentre Group locations in Victoria.
While no date has been set for the launch of flight testing in Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angeles next year, Allison said the company would take its time and not rush the trial programme.
"It has to be done right, and done safe, so we're not going to rush things."
Allison said there would be a number of challenges for Uber Air, including concerns that its aircraft would clog up the skies and disrupt residential bliss but he said Uber had foreseen this, which had informed its decision to make its aircraft electric and quiet.
Perhaps the biggest challenges, however, is how Uber Air would ensure there is undisturbed internet connectivity during flights on its aircraft so its location-enabled app can track journeys in real time and keep drivers of ground transportation and passengers scheduled for the next journey connected. The company said it was partnering with telecommunication providers to work through this.
EmbraerX, the American division of the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, is one of six manufacturers competing to be the first to produce a certified flyable Uber Air electric aircraft. Each are creating concepts that are slightly different in size and function to make up the fleet.
Boeing, Bell, Pipistrel Aircraft, Karem Aircraft and Jaunt are also at work developing aircraft for Uber Air.
Uber, in conjunction aerospace company Safran, has designed its own concept for aircraft which can accommodate four passengers and a pilot. The doors can't open from the inside but open from the outside by a touch of the button. Each aircraft would cost more than a million dollars, it estimates.
Campello said modern developments in aviation such as fully electric aircraft would open the doors to a whole new industry. He said the adoption was not just about the aircraft being built but the aircraft and ecosystems operating behind it.
"We have to change the way we do business in this day," Campello said, adding that manufacturers needed to put safety above all else.
Uber believes the future of urban aviation and aeronautics lies in the hands of innovation.
Stan Swaintek, director of operations at Uber Elevate, said the launch of Uber Air would take a lot more than just innovative flying machines but the company was confident it would be able to commercialise flying taxis within its 2023 timeframe.
He said Uber Copter would allow the company to create the operating capabilities and digital products required to deliver "safe and time-saving services" for riders taking trips by air.
"Aviation of the future requires the ability to control and synchronise the activities of riders and drivers and aircraft and support systems all within a tight complex, multi-modal aerial rideshare," Swaintek said.
By starting the service using helicopters instead of its own fleet of aircraft initially would allow the company to test the market and focus on the technology infrastructure behind the machines needed to make it work simultaneously through its ridesharing app.
"While the technology behind the scenes is new, the aircraft, infrastructure and flight standards are not. We can accomplish all of our learnings starting here enabling Uber Air while operating out of existing aviation infrastructure."
Uber regional general manager for Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, Susan Anderson, said the company wanted Uber Air to be accessible and affordable for everyone, though admitted it would be costly to begin with.
She said the price of Uber Air would reduce as the business scaled and evolved.
"Technology goes through curves and part of what we need to do is to find a way forward as technology to evolve to be something that is cost-effective," she said.
"It's very hard to start from day one with a business model and technology that is already accessible; we have seen this in a number of different industries, if you go from personal computers to mobile phones to all of these technologies, they start as something that is higher priced and then as they scale and start to evolve the cost comes down."
Last month Uber let go off a "significant" number of staff from its New Zealand workforce as it retrenches roles to Sydney. A year ago, Uber said it had 30 staff in its Auckland office located in the suburb of Kingsland.
Air New Zealand and Zephyr Airworks last year signed an agreement to bring an autonomous electric air taxi service to market in New Zealand. It is developing a self-flying small plane, dubbed the Cora, which is being tested in Canterbury, it estimates to be six years away from commercial launch - about three behind Uber's timeline to launch its own electric flying taxi service.
Some will take Uber's timeline with a pinch of salt, however. Back in 2016, Uber said it would be able to have fully autonomous vehicles - without any human safety driver as a backup - on roads by 2020. But technical, safety and regulatory challenges have meant that Uber and other players in the driver-less car space have now pushed out their deadlines by several years.