Autonomous, flying vehicles? Here's what the future of cars could look like

From the introduction of power steering and air conditioning to the advent of electric windows and electric vehicles, the automotive industry has long been defined by technology.

Self-driving cars represent the next development, and could well be the most disruptive innovation the sector has ever seen. As wild as it sounds, in the near future it could be possible to hail a vertical take-off, flying taxi.

Technicians and engineers at German auto giant BMW have been working on driver assistance systems since the 1990s. Five "levels" of autonomous driving have been defined. At Level 1, BMW has said that "driver assistance systems" would support a driver but not assume control of the vehicle. At the other end of the scale, Level 5, full automation would be achieved with the driver becoming nothing more than a passenger.

According to Fred Jones, head of cities in the U.K. and Ireland at Uber, the ride-sharing company wants to be at the heart of the transition to autonomous driving. "We made a decision… do we want to be part of that change and shape the introduction of that technology, or do we want to have that change kind of thrust upon us?"

Uber has already embraced the technology. "We really wanted to be part of that evolution, and so now if you're in Phoenix, you can push a button and get a self-driving Uber to come and pick you up," Jones said. He added that, currently, such vehicles still had an engineer behind the wheel to keep an eye on things. Autonomous trucking was another avenue being investigated, Jones said. 

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