07 February 2017

Bloomberg: “Uber hires Veteran NASA Engineer to develop Flying Cars”

Moore’s research (PDF) into so-called VTOL—short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars—inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology, Bloomberg Businessweek reported last summer.

Now Moore is leaving the confines of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google’s rivals: Uber Technologies Inc. Moore is taking on a new role as director of engineering for aviation at the ride-hailing company, working on a flying car initiative known as Uber Elevate. I can’t think of another company in a stronger position to be the leader for this new ecosystem and make the urban electric VTOL market real, he says.

Brad Stone

Another (potential) area where Uber and Google are set to be in harsh competition. Although, as I wrote before, I have serious doubts whether these concepts will ever reach mass adoption the way cars have.

Another difficulty that comes to mind is retraining all drivers as pilots for the new flying machines. Granted, this could be partially solved by increasing automation of the car controls – a self-flying car – but this solution can introduce other, more complex problems. For now, Uber’s stated vision cleverly avoids this pitfall by envisioning a fleet of flying buses instead. But I still have to wonder: is this really more efficient than an extensive and well maintained underground system? You don’t need new technologies or new regulations for building subways; you avoid increased noise and air pollution; and potentially you don’t even need drivers for the trains!

Uber’s vision is a seductive one, particularly for sci-fi fans. The ride-hailing company envisions people taking conventional Ubers from their homes to nearby “vertiports” that dot residential neighborhoods. Then they would zoom up into the air and across town to the vertiport closest to their offices. (We don’t need stinking bridges! says Moore.) These air taxis will only need ranges of between 50 to 100 miles, and Moore thinks that they can be at least partially recharged while passengers are boarding or exiting the aircraft. He also predicts we’ll see several well-engineered flying cars in the next one to three years and that there will be human pilots, at least managing the onboard computers, for the foreseeable future.

Brad Stone
Uber Air Transportation concept
Urban Air Transportation concept. Source: Uber

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