Uber and NASA to develop software for Flying Taxi Control

Uber is getting involved in a joint industry and government drive with NASA to build up a software which the company seeks to utilize to control “flying taxi” routes that can work like ride-hailing services they have popularised in recent times.

On Wednesday, it was told by Uber that it was the first formal services agreement by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) covering low-altitude airspace rather than higher space altitudes. NASA has used such agreements to build up rockets since the late 1950s.

Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said Uber would start testing proposed four-passenger 200-miles-per-hour (322-km-per-hour) flying taxi services throughout Los Angeles in 2020, its second planned test market after Dallas/Fort Worthy of Value.

Uber has faced legal and regulatory fights throughout the world since it launched its taxi-hailing services earlier this decade including in London where it is supposed to appeal against a decision to remove it of its license due to various safety concerns.

Holden told Uber’s latest air taxi programs at Web Summit, an online conference in Lisbon, where he emphasized it was attempting to win approval from aviation regulators well before introducing such services.

“There’s a truth that Uber is continuing to grow up a great deal as a company,” Holden said in an interview before his speech. “We are actually a significant company on the world stage and you also can’t do things the same manner where you are a large-scale, global company that can be done if you are a little, scrappy startup.”

NASA said in a declaration it had signed a generic contract in January with Uber that allows the company to become listed on a number of industry partners working with NASA to build up a variety of driverless air traffic management systems. That offer demands Uber be engaged during phase 4 of the ongoing work, which is planned to start in March 2019, NASA said.

Phase 1, completed in 2015, involved field assessments and ongoing assessment at a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) site for drones used in agriculture, pipeline and fire-fighting monitoring, NASA has said. Phase 2 in 2016 considered long distance uses in populated areas sparsely while Phase 3 in 2018 will test services over reasonably populated areas, resulting in Phase 4 assessment in high-density cities in 2019.

Uber is seeking to accelerate development of a fresh industry of electric, on-demand, urban air taxis, Holden said, which customers could order up via smartphone with techniques that parallel the ground-based taxi alternatives they have popularised while expanding into more than 600 cites since 2011.

Uber programs to introduce paid, intra-city flying taxi services from 2023 and it is dealing with aviation regulators in America and European countries to gain approvals toward that end, Holden told Reuters.

“We are extremely embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in conversations concerning this and getting everyone aligned with the vision,” he said of Uber’s programs to introduce what he called “ride-sharing in the sky”.

Making Flying Taxis

Earlier this year Uber hired NASA veterans Mark Tom and Moore Prevot to run respectively, its aircraft vehicle design team and its own air traffic management software program. Throughout a 32-year job at NASA, Moore pioneered its electric plane propulsion task which Uber considers to be the key technology to make urban air transportation possible.

The agreement with NASA aims to resolve issues involved with operating hundreds or even a large number of driverless aircraft over cities and allow these to co-exist with existing air traffic control systems as well as around busy airports.

Uber envisions a fleet of electric jet-powered vehicles – part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing airplanes – working multiple small rotors with the capacity of both vertical take-off and landing and rapid horizontal air travel.

Uber is building software to control systems in the sky of traveling taxis and dealing with manufacturers including Aurora Flight Sciences, that was acquired by Boeing last month.

It has additionally registered Embraer, Mooney, Bell Helicopter, and Pipistrel Aircraft to build up new vertical take-off and landing aairplanes for the ongoing service.