A fanciful concept for so long, there are now some big names pumping serious money into the development of flying cars. The likes of Boeing, Airbus and Uber are getting very serious about putting these things into the sky, the lattermost of which has just formed an agreement with NASA to work out how to manage all that incoming air traffic.
Uber first revealed plans for a flying taxi service, which it calls Uber Elevate, in a 97-page white paper last year. It hopes to use vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft to fundamentally change how people move around cities, as are a growing contingent of forward-thinking aviation companies working on similar projects.
These include the CityAirbus project from Airbus, which it is hoped will begin flight testing next year, the eighteen-rotor Volocopter that took its first unmanned flight over Dubai in September, and the recently announced Autonomous Passenger Drone that has undergone flight testing in Europe.
Whether any, all or just some of these projects actually come to fruition, it seems almost certain the skies are about to get a whole lot busier. And that's where NASA comes in. According to CNBC, Uber announced a deal with the space agency on Wednesday to help it develop "unmanned traffic management" systems to deal with the aerial influx.
NASA is already working on a similar system for unmanned drones, and began testing it last year. The basic idea is that corridors of airspace would be sectioned off for specific unmanned applications. So you could have a low-speed slice of air where hobbyists fly their video drones, and above that you might have a channel for high-speed delivery drones. Somewhere, amongst all of this, Uber hopes its flying taxis will do their thing.
Having recently announced plans to start testing its flying taxi service in Dubai and Dallas in 2020, Uber has also now added Los Angeles to that list. It is now also referring to the service as UberAir and imagines passengers hailing its flying taxis with a push of a button and traveling along fixed routes between city hubs called Skyports.
"UberAir will be performing far more flights on a daily basis than it has ever been done before," Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, said in a statement. "Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace management technologies. Combining Uber's software engineering expertise with NASA's decades of airspace experience to tackle this is a crucial step forward for Uber Elevate."