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Uber Announces Research Partnership with NASA on Flying Urban Taxis

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【Summary】Imagine summoning a flying taxi instead of a car using Uber’s smartphone app. Uber is hoping to make that happen in the near future and announced today a research partnership with NASA to study manned urban taxis.

Derrick Smith    May 08, 2018 12:36 PM PT
Uber Announces Research Partnership with NASA on Flying Urban Taxis

LOS ANGELES — Imagine summoning a flying taxi instead of a car using Uber's smartphone app. Uber is hoping to make that happen in the near future and announced today a research partnership with NASA to study manned urban taxis.

As part of the deal, Uber will share its data with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to move the world closer to developing air traffic management systems for flying cars and air taxis.

Uber made the announcement today as it kicked off its second Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles. Although Uber has no plans to build vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) themselves, the company is striking partnerships with aviation manufacturers, battery companies and others who could make it possible to summon a flying taxi via the Uber app. The aircraft would operate on Uber's own network.

"Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smart phones have," Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

Uber has ambitious goals of testing these electric VTOL vehicles by 2020, with a commercial launch in 2023. The company has produced its own designs, talked to local governments and is trying to lay the foundation for a future in which people travel across cities in the sky instead of on the ground.

Top U.S. regulators are scheduled to speak at the conference including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and acting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Dan Elwell. Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi is scheduled to speak at the Elevate conference tomorrow.

Flying cars and air taxis, as well as autonomous drones, are gaining interest as advancements in battery power and electric propulsion are making it possible to build small, electric aircraft that can carry several passengers and take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.

This technology is ideal for crowded urban areas where Uber currently operates. Uber say its flying taxis will be able to fly between San Francisco and San Jose, California in just fifteen minutes—a trip that takes nearly two hours by car in rush-hour traffic.

Flying cars have attracted the attention of other technology companies. Alphabet CEO Larry Page has made significant investments in companies working on flying cars, such as startups Kitty Hawk and Zee Aero.

Ride-hailing services from Uber and Lyft are accused of causing more traffic in cities such as San Francisco. Last year, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office released a finding estimating that 45,000 Uber and Lyft drivers are operating in the city, leading to gridlock caused by the extra vehicles.

Battery-powered flight is a promising new technology. With Uber's autonomous driving program now stalled, it may be good time for the ride-hailing company to look towards the sky to transport riders.

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