OK, to start with they really aren't flying cars.
What Uber is suggesting in their 99 page white paper is a new form of on-demand, urban air transportation.
Using vertical take off and landing (VTOL) planes (pictured below), Uber aims to provide on-demand flights around and between urban centers.
Key quote from Wired's article on Uber's plans:
Within five years, according to the white paper, Uber expects the market to produce a fully electric, vertical-takeoff-and-landing plane that can fly 100 miles at about 150 mph, carrying multiple passengers and a pilot.
From a technology standpoint, this is very doable.
VTOL aircraft that can take-off, hover and land vertically have been around for decades. A Harrier VTOL Jump Jet (a military VTOL) even played a key role in the final scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1994 film True Lies.
So the technology is clearly there.
The bigger issues are costs, safety, noise and regulations.
Back in the 1980s urban commercial helicopter travel was somewhat common. For example, you could catch a helicopter from one the piers next to downtown San Francisco and fly to SFO airport in about 5 minutes. If you connected to a major airline and were paying full fare, they would even provide this service to you for no additional cost.
But a combination of factors ended these services.
First, helicopters are very noisy so no one wanted them landing or taking off anywhere near them. The second problem was safety.
Urban environments are not ideal places to be flying around at low altitudes. Not only are there a lot of things to run into, large buildings make for tricky and unpredictable winds.
There were a number of helicopter accidents back in the 1980s. This definitely reduced the places people were willing to let them take off and land from.
Cost also became an issue. With the deregulation of the airlines the helicopter trips became unbundled from airline tickets. Once people actually had to pay directly for the trips, business dried up for the helicopter services.
Uber addresses all these issues in their white paper.
Their specific argument is VTOL planes have advantages over helicopters, with the big one being noise. Uber plans to use electric VTOLs, which would be much, much quieter than helicopters.
But despite the arguments made in the white paper, safety concerns - including potential uses of these aircraft by criminals and terrorists - are still big issues. Cost will also likely be a problem.
We've been promised flying cars for a long time. In 1955, for example, Smithsonian Magazine forecast that atomic powered flying cars would be common by the year 2000.
So you'll have to excuse us if we're more than a bit skeptical that Uber will be commonly providing air taxi services within the next 5 years.