We were incredibly cynical when Uber announced plans for flying taxis back in April, especially over claims the company envisaged them launching as soon as 2020.
But it seems our cynicism may have been premature after the troubled ride-sharing firm struck a deal with NASA to make these bold claims a reality.
San Francisco-based Uber has signed a deal with the space agency that will see NASA develop the software needed to get the flying cars off the ground, and manage their routes. The latter is especially key given the number of aircraft that will be needed and the amount of air traffic that will create.
Announced by Uber’s chief product officer Jeff Holden at this week’s Web Summit in Lisbon, the company is also partnering with officials in Los Angeles and developers Sandstone Properties to build rooftop landing pads on skyscrapers in the city for its proposed fleet of flying electric vehicles.
“We are very much embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in discussions about this and getting everyone aligned with the vision,” said Holden.
NASA has previously said it was working with various companies to develop so-called “urban air mobility.”
Uber first made its bold proposals at the Elevate summit in April. The company wants to introduce electric, on-demand “air taxis” that would be part-drone, part fixed-wing aircraft, and can be booked through the Uber app in the same way people currently book road taxis. In places like Monaco, it’s already possible to book jets through Uber and this would see that feature expanded on.
The first partner cities announced at Elevate were Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai. Dallas-Fort Worth wants to be the first metropolitan area in the US to explore a flying car pilot and Uber has already partnered with Hillwood Properties in the region. Uber’s deal with the Dubai Road and Transport Authority will see the officials fund studies for “demand modelling” to analyse the kind of prices and networks that will be needed in Dubai.
In both cities, Uber said it plans to form partnerships with construction and real estate companies under its Elevate initiative to develop the infrastructure needed, including vertiports.
Beyond infrastructure, Uber’s vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle partners include Aurora Flight Sciences, Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer, Mooney and Bell Helicopter. The company also needs to develop a charger for the Uber Elevate Network so has partnered with ChargePoint.
Alphr has contacted Uber and NASA for more information about how the deal will work and what the monetary value of the partnership is.