NASA and Uber Collaborate on Flying Car Management Platform

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【Summary】The partnership between NASA and Uber, via the Space Act Agreement, allows both groups to share technologies, perspectives and expertise (no funding mentioned).

Michael Cheng    Nov 13, 2017 3:45 PM PT
NASA and Uber Collaborate on Flying Car Management Platform
author: Michael Cheng   

Uber's quest to disrupt urban transportation, by offering rides on VTOL-powered vessels, has hit a major milestone. Jeff Holden, Chief Product Officer at Uber, announced the formation of a partnership with NASA, via the Space Act Agreement,  during a tech event in Lisbon.

The agreement entails the development of air traffic management systems, which will be used to oversee and safely manage aerial fleets.

"UberAir will be performing far more flights over cities on a daily basis than has ever been done before," cited Holden, in a statement provided to USA Today. "Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace-management technologies."

Urban Air Mobility (UAM)

At the moment, it is unclear how much of the project involves the production of flying cars. The NASA project in development, which initially rolled out in 2015, was designed to oversee compact drones. The agreement between NASA and Uber allows both groups to share technologies, perspectives and expertise (no funding mentioned).

During the tech conference, Holden also took the initiative to provide the audience with an update regarding its flying car project. The Uber CPO mentioned Los Angeles as the latest addition to its list of cities that will participate in its flying car program. Other cities on the list include Dallas and Dubai.

"We believe our job is to create opportunities for the UAM community to work together toward the common goal of safe, efficient and quiet operations," Rich Wahls, NASA's strategic technical advisor in the Advanced Air Vehicles Program for ARMD, said in a statement.

Uber currently has one ex-NASA employee on its team for its flying car project. With over 30 years of experience working for the space agency, Mark Moore joined the business earlier this year. Under NASA, Moore was responsible for authoring a whitepaper (NASA Puffin Electric Tailsitter VTOL Concept) that introduced the viability of the Puffin Electric Tailsitter.  

NASA-branded Ride-sharing Aircraft?

The announcement of the partnership agreement between the two groups ignited a media frenzy, as expected. Due to speculations about the development of a NASA-branded flying car, the space agency clarified that the collaboration was signed back in January, which cemented Uber's role (along with roughly 76 other businesses and organizations) in NASA's upcoming Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) Technical Capability Level demonstrations, scheduled to start on 2019.

So far, we know Uber will not be building its fleet of VTOL-powered aircrafts on its own; and based on the scope of the partnership agreement, the vessels will not be coming from NASA. Holden reiterated during the tech conference that projects with aircraft manufacturers will come to fruition in the future.

From a licensing perspective, Uber previously explained the importance of seeking approval from regulatory groups for testing and implementation. During an interview with The Register, an Uber representative highlighted the company is in the process of getting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Interestingly, a spokesman from the FAA told the media outlet that it has not received an official proposal from Uber. 

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