The US space agency NASA and ride-hailing platform Uber have signed an agreement to explore the technologies and challenges related to urban air mobility (UAM).
As part of the project, Uber will share details of its plans for an urban aviation ridesharing service. Announced in April 2017, the Uber Levitate Network plans to have passenger-carrying VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) in the skies by the end of the decade. However, the safety, certification and logistical challenges of such a network are considerable.
NASA will take the information provided by Uber to create airspace management simulations and models, assessing how urban VTOL passenger craft and fleets of delivery drones might interact in crowded urban airspace. According to the space agency, this is its first agreement specifically focused on UAM modelling.
“NASA is excited to be partnering with Uber and others in the community to identify the key challenges facing the UAM market, and explore necessary research, development and testing requirements to address those challenges,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.
“Urban air mobility could revolutionise the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smartphones have.”
(Credit: NASA/Advanced Concepts Laboratory)
NASA will use its Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport research facility as a virtual test bed, simulating a small passenger-carrying aircraft as it flies through DFW airspace during peak scheduled air traffic. The simulations should highlight potential safety issues as new aircraft are added to urban airspace that is already crowded. According to Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, the domain expertise of both organisations is key to solving the many challenges of UAM.
“The new space act agreement broadening Uber’s partnership with NASA is exciting,” he said, “because it allows us to combine Uber’s massive-scale engineering expertise with NASA’s decades of subject matter experience across multiple domains that are key to enabling urban air mobility, starting with airspace systems.”
NASA says the data created by the simulations will be made available to the wider UAM community and will help shape industry standards and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.