We’re getting closer and closer to a Jetsons-like future with NASA and Uber’s new collaboration on developing a flying car.
Visualization of a flying taxi [Image by Uber]
The space agency has agreed to help Uber by developing an air traffic control system for Uber’s flying car project. This project, called Uber Elevate, aims to launch an aerial taxi service by 2020 in Los Angeles.
Uber’s vision is quite futuristic. Imagine pulling up the Uber app on your phone and booking transportation. However, you won’t be booking a car that will ply concrete roads. You won’t be walking out to the street and waiting on the sidewalk for your ride. Instead, you’ll be climbing to a “skyport” on the rooftop of the nearest tall building, and you’ll be soaring through the skies to get to your destination.
Sometime in the near future, the word “traffic” may no longer belong in your vocabulary.
Video by Uber
This isn’t the first flying car project to make the new rounds. A flying car by Lilium, a German company, had already successfully completed its first test flight earlier this year. However, Lilium and Uber aren’t the only companies looking to the skies for the future of transport. About 20 other companies, including more established ones like Boeing and Airbus, are developing their own flying car projects.
Artist's concept of a "skyport" [Image by Uber]
Uber in particular has made their project a collaborative effort. The company has managed to secure the aid of NASA, a move that has surely silenced at least some of the project’s skeptics. NASA has also already been working on “urban air mobility” (UAM) for years, and this experience will likely be invaluable to Uber. Way back in 2011, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) began a project called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS in the NAS), which focuses on uncrewed aircraft. In 2015, meanwhile, NASA began its UAS Traffic Management (UTM) project, which deals with smaller aircraft like drones.
“NASA is very focused on getting UTM adoption and pressure-testing the framework and make sure it works correctly,” said Jeff Holden, Uber’s head of product. “Uber is actually trying to put this new air traffic system into production.”
Uber's vision of their flying cars in Dubai [Image by Uber]
Holden also says that Los Angeles is the ideal place to launch Uber Elevate. After all, it’s one of the most congested cities in the world, where traffic is more or less a fact of life. Holden also says that LA has no infrastructure for mass transit. Thus, flying taxis may be a good addition to mass transit that doesn’t further add to the congestion in LA’s roads.
However, we can’t help but question: how close is Uber to making Uber Elevate a reality? 2020 is now just two years away, but Uber has yet to come out with a successful test flight. Plus, Uber’s plans are quite grand. They propose facilitating tens of thousands of flights a day, with each trip costing no more than $20. Has Uber bitten off more than they can chew? We won’t know for sure until we cross that bridge, but Uber is quite confident that there won’t be any significant bumps in the road.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!