By Meghna Murali
In the month of April, Uber unveiled its plans of introducing demo flying taxis in 2020. The company has also entered into agreements with Dallas and Texas for the demonstration of the same. Additionally, Uber has announced a new deal with NASA for the establishment of an air traffic management system. Moreover, the company aims to integrate UberAir with its existing mode of transportation in Los Angeles by the 2028 Olympics.
UberAir: Project Elevate
Dubbed as ‘Elevate’, the vehicle resembles a drone-like electric helicopter which can accommodate up to four passengers. The vehicle follows a conversion process. Thus, it transitions between vertical take-off, cruise and vertical landing. The simultaneous operation of small rotors on the air jet enables the operation of the transition process. Moreover, as the jet is powered to propel at a speed of 150-200 miles an hour, it can be recharged in just four minutes. Customers can place their order via the Uber app on their smartphones. The vehicle has no single-part criticality. Hence, the failure of any one of the vehicle’s components does not lead to the failure of the entire system.
Uber and NASA collaboration
Uber has agreements with various other companies for developing the flying taxi. However, this is the first time that it has partnered with a US federal agency. The partnership is a part of NASA’s Space Agreement Act (SAA’s). NASA enters into SAA’s with various partners and organisations.This enhances NASA’s programme objectives which primarily include cooperative space activities. In one of its statements, NASA stated that it had signed an agreement with Uber in January. The deal enables Uber to work on NASA’s new technology called UTM: Unmanned aerial systems Traffic Management.
Why does Uber need NASA?
The company has been facing a lot of legal issues across the world since it introduced its taxi services in 2011. Some countries even want to strip it of its license over safety issues. The formalisation of this deal with NASA allows Uber to work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airports. The major component of the airspace management agreements includes the critical analysis of the existing airspace traffic system. Hence, Uber needs to revamp the entire airspace system. Jeff Holden, the Chief product officer at Uber, has stated that “These are exactly the kind of partners we need to make uberAIR a reality.”
NASA wants the company to be involved in phase four of its UTM work. The first phase was completed in 2015 which involved field tests at the SAA. Phase two took place in 2016, which considered long distance uses in sparsely populated regions. Phase 3 is scheduled to take place in 2018. It will test the air taxi services over moderately populated areas. During Phase 4, scheduled to take place in 2019, Uber will be experimenting ‘Elevate’ in densely populated areas such as Los Angeles. Although the initiative is a long shot, Uber aims to make ‘Elevate’ a fast and inexpensive means of transportation.