Uber partners with NASA to bring flying taxis to cities
- Uber's Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden announced this week that Los Angeles has been selected as the second U.S. city for its uberAIR service, a ride-sharing option that would enable four-person flights across town in electric vehicle take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs). Dallas was announced as the first U.S. test city for this innovation in April.
- Uber also announced this week that it signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to develop new Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) concepts and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) "that will enable safe and efficient operations of small UAS at low altitudes," according to a press statement.
- Uber estimates that 200 mph rides across the skies of Los Angeles will be "price competitive" with typical uberX rides of the same distance. The company hopes to launch demonstrator flights in L.A. by 2020, and anticipates that uberAIR will be in full operation by the 2028 Olympic Games.
In a recent op-ed piece, Kaushik Rajashekara of the IEEE Transportation Electrification Community wrote, "Thanks to a host of technological advances, flying cars are now more viable than ever — just in time to become a new transportation option for smart cities and rural areas alike." His theory could seem somewhat far-fetched for an average citizen looking at the state of transportation today, yet his views match those of other transportation innovators across the industry. Flying vehicles are not so far off, and Uber is leading the charge to make sure they have skin in the game.
From a broad perspective, Uber's selection of Dallas and Los Angeles for uberAIR "pilot hubs" are well thought out. Dallas is an aviation-friendly city, while Los Angeles is a center for both innovation and marketing. If uberAIR can become popularized in L.A., it's likely to be in high demand from envious cities nationwide.
The real question is who will be testing the uberAIR services. While Uber touts that an uberAIR ride could reduce travel time from LAX to the Staples Center by nearly an hour, that's just one route — and requires taking an uberX to and from the Skyports where the taxi will take off and land. Other routes across town have not yet been laid out despite Uber estimating that "uberAIR will perform tens of thousands of flights each day across the city." In order for Uber to maintain an element of convenience — something that is so important with its uberX rides — uberAIR will need to be accessible from all points of the city, with a wealth of destination options.
The capability to access uberAIR from multiple locations, however, also raises the question of infrastructure. Uber says it signed an agreement with Sandstone Properties, which has "over 20 strategically-positioned locations ... [as] exclusive options for the Uber Elevate Network" for the construction of Skyports. However it is unclear how much money or other resources will go into developing this network in L.A., as well as in Dallas and its international partner city of Dubai. If Uber can successfully develop numerous in-air routes per city, and offer services for a reasonable price, it is likely that uberAIR will be adopted as a mainstream transit option.
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