NASA and Uber's Flying Taxis Will Transform Cities

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 - 3:21PM
Wednesday, 08 November 2017 - 3:21PM
NASA and Uber's Flying Taxis Will Transform Cities
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Image credit: Uber
Traffic jams may soon be a thing of the past. NASA and Uber are joining forces to create flying taxis that could transform modern urban design and forever alter the future of global transportation. 

Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden announced today from the center stage of the Web Summit in Lisbon today that the company would begin testing four-passenger flying taxi service in Los Angeles in 2020, following the first testing in Dallas/Fort Worth.

According to Holden, Uber has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create an air traffic control system specifically to guide the aircraft: low-flying, autonomous vehicles traveling at 200 MPH. Space Act Agreements are how NASA partners with organizations to connect with abilities and technologies not part of its main focus. 

NASA announced on Nov. 7 that it was expanding its research of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), which it defines as "a safe and efficient system for air passenger and cargo transportation within an urban area, inclusive of small package delivery and other urban Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) services, which supports a mix of onboard/ground-piloted and increasingly autonomous operations."

Although the NASA didn't officially name Uber in its press release, the connection between the two declarations is complimentary.

The Uber/NASA deal will reportedly begin in March 2019 as part of Phase Four of the "Uber Elevate" project.

Uber Elevate complete Phase One in 2015 after field testing at a Federal Aviation Administration site, followed by the second phase that considered long-distance usage over sparingly populated regions.

Phase Three takes place in 2018 over moderately population ground, and phase four is planned to begin over urban areas in 2019.

Uber Elevate promises "traveling from San Francisco's Marina to work in downtown San Jose—a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours-in only 15 minutes," and the opportunity to reduce "your 90-plus minute stop-and-go commute from Gurgaon to your office in central New Delhi to a mere six minutes."

Uber would employ electric "Vertical Take-off and Landing" (VTOL) aircraft that could travel between suburban areas and cities-as well as within cities-between a network of hubs considered "vertiports."

And, much like the cars in the Blade Runner films (the first of which just happens to be set in 2019 Los Angeles), would travel "independently of any specific path, making route-based congestion less prevalent," leaving traffic jams and train delays for those who choose to remain grounded.

Uber believes that "VTOL aircraft need to be safer than driving a car on a fatalities-per-passenger-mile basis," and that it can achieve an average safety rate that would make VTOLs "twice as safe as driving."

Other expected aspects of VTOLs would include acceptable aircraft noise ("VTOLs should be one-half as loud as a medium-sized truck passing a house") and that due to its electric propulsion design that the VTOLs would produce "zero operational emissions."
NASA and Uber's Flying Taxis Will Transform Cities