Having already asserted its dominance on the road, Uber is looking to the skies — with the government’s help.
The ride-hailing giant announced it had reached an agreement with Nasa to develop systems for managing low-altitude flights.
In other words: traffic signals for flying cars.
A press release called the announcement part of the company’s “vision to enable customers in the future to push a button and get a high-speed flight in and around cities”, saying it hoped to initiate tests by 2020 and have the airborne ride industry in rude health in time for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“Technology will allow LA residents to literally fly over the city’s historically bad traffic”, Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said in a press release that also quoted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised the project.
Uber has been at work for some time on airborne vehicles. It has previously announced it was partnering with private aerospace companies in pursuit of that goal.
But the federal government’s imprimatur, via the deal with Nasa, offers one of the strongest signals yet that flying Uber vehicles are a concrete possibility. In a series of tweets, Uber trumpeted that “ridesharing in the sky is closer than you think” and released an advertisement in which a woman steps abroad a small aircraft after scanning her phone.
A Nasa spokesman confirmed the space agency had signed an agreement with Uber in January but emphasized that Nasa was not building flying cars and remained independent of Uber.
“NASA has the knowledge and the expertise to help enable the industry to open this new market safety and efficiently, however, the agency is not developing flying cars or software for Uber or any other company”, spokesman JD Harrington said in an email.
Still, as it develops the technology, Uber has repeatedly looked to Nasa. It already hired a pair of agency veterans to assist the effort.
The company and its business rivals are racing to dominate future methods of transportation as conventional automobiles become obsolete.
Earlier this week, driverless car competitor Waymo – a project of Google’s parent company Alphabet — announced that it has launched autonomous vehicles without backup humans on board, the first time that had been done.