Uber teams up with U.S. Army, NASA to develop flying taxis

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Taking it to the skies.
Taking it to the skies.
Image: Uber

Uber is flying high above its street-level ride-hailing business.

At its annual Elevate summit in Los Angeles Tuesday, the rideshare company detailed its aviation goals to launch electric flying taxis within the next five years. 

The service, dubbed UberAir, aims to move rides to the sky, so Uber is partnering with the U.S. Army’s research arm and NASA to make it happen.

Uber’s partnership with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), within the Army Research Lab, is focused on researching the tech needed to propel the company’s electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. 

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UberAir wants to fly its vehicles up to 2,000 feet at 150 mph for short-haul flights, going as far as 60 miles on a battery charge. The service plans to fly demos of its four-passenger seat planes in Los Angeles and the Dallas area by 2020, ready for commercial use by 2023. 

Although the air taxi will initially be piloted, flights will eventually become autonomous.

The passenger experience on UberAir.

The passenger experience on UberAir.

Image: uber

As part of this $1-million partnership, spilt 50-50, the U.S. Army research team is working with Uber to develop quieter propeller technology. In a release, the Army said, “this is a concept for having two rotor systems placed on top of each other and rotating in the same direction.” Apparently this has never been deployed in a flying craft before. 

So Uber won’t necessarily be outfitting the military with aircraft, but this joint research could help the Army one day fly a fleet of unmanned air vehicles, or supply the tech for more efficient military aircraft down the track.

The aircraft and rotator technology the military is researching.

The aircraft and rotator technology the military is researching.

Image: uber

On the NASA side, Uber is expanding an agreement with the space agency. The new arrangement means Uber will share information with NASA about creating an “urban aviation rideshare network.” NASA wants to use this data for computer modeling and simulation in order to study how small aircraft like UberAir manage in crowded environments.

Previously, Uber had an agreement with NASA to research pilotless vehicle traffic management at low altitudes. 

Uber is moving way beyond cities, roads, and public transit, getting deep into aeronautical institutions, and possibly into defense contracting. But for now, its nascent aviation team is trying to establish itself as legit. Partnerships with the likes of NASA and U.S. Army sure help on that front.

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