Uber and NASA team up to offer flying taxis by 2020

Transportation company Uber has signed a deal with NASA to develop software that can manage UberAir "flying taxi" routes in the air, much like its cab service on the ground. The four-passenger vehicles are scheduled to be tested at Los Angeles in 2020, the second test site after Dallas.

Uber's chief product officer, Jeff Holden, announced the collaboration at the Web Summit in Lisbon, saying that the flying taxis will have a speed of 200 miles or 322 kilometres per hour. This is reportedly the first low-altitude airspace contract for NASA, after several rocket-developing contracts since the 1950s.

In an interview before the summit, Holden stated, "We are now a major company on the world stage and you can't do things the same way where you are a large-scale, global company that you can do when you are a small, scrappy startup." The company is looking to expand business with electric air taxis that will run in urban areas. The taxis can be ordered through smartphones, similar to their ground versions.

The intra-city vehicles have been given a tentative launch date of 2023 and Uber is joining hands with aviation regulators in the US and Europe to make the dream a reality by the expected date. "We are very much embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in discussions about this and getting everyone aligned with the vision," said Holden. After the service is launched, passengers will also be able to share taxi rides in the sky, as they do now with UberPool.

The aircraft vehicle and its management software are being designed by a team that includes NASA veterans like Mark Moore and Tom Prevot. Moore was the long-time in charge of the electric jet propulsion project at NASA, the technology that is said to make this advancement possible.

In Uber's project, NASA will ensure the smooth running of the thousands of UberAir taxis that will be flying over cities, in addition to maintaining the existing air traffic control systems.

The taxis will not be made by Uber, which has instead hired manufacturers like Aurora Flight Services, Embraer, Bell Helicopter, Pipistrel Aircraft and Mooney to do the tough task. The vehicles are touted to be jet-powered and partly resembling helicopters, drones and fixed-winged aircrafts.

The company has announced that the air-taxi services will start operating from Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, the international airport and a sports arena in the suburban San Fernando Valley.