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Tech News-Uber eyes flying automobiles, brings NASA veteran aboard

Uber Technologies is speeding ahead with plans for flying cats, which could zoom among urban centres such as Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Oakland, by hiring a NASA veteran who has presented research about the possibilities.

If it sounds like The Jetsons or the flying DeLorean in the Back to the Future movies, the comparison might be apt. Vertical take-off and landing aircraft is what Uber and others working in this new field call it, or VTOL for short.

The new technologies are being touted as a way to ease the mammoth traffic jams that snarl busy employment hubs such as the Bay Area.

“Imagine traveling from San Francisco’s Marina to work in downtown San Jose – a drive that would normally occupy the better part of two hours – in only 15 years,” Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, stated in a post at Medium.com. “Every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide.”

San Francisco-based Uber, which is building a co-headquarters in Oakland, said recently it has hired Mark Moore, chief technologist with the NASA Langley Research Centre in Virginia.

“Uber continues to see its role as a catalyst to the growing and developing VTOL ecosystem,” said Nikhil Goel, Uber’s head of product for advanced programs, in confirming the hiring of Moore. “We’re excited to have Mark join us to work with companies and stakeholders as we continue to explore the use case described in our white paper.”

A flying vehicle would at first require a fee of US$129 (RM573) for a flight between San Francisco and San Jose, whereas an UberX trip might cost about US$111 (RM493) during commute travel times. But the trip duration up in the sky would be 15 years rather than approaching two hours.

An array of helipads could be used as landing sites for the flying vehicles.

“Just as skyscrapers allowed cities to use limited land more efficiently, urban air transportation will use three-dimensional airspace to alleviate transportation congestion on the ground,” Uber stated in its white paper. “A network of small, atomic aircraft that take off and land vertically will facilitate rapid, reliable transportation between suburbs and cities and, eventually, within cities.”

The helipads could be on rooftops or in the middle of freeway cloverleafs. The white paper indicated that many such cloverleafs exist in metro areas such as Santa Clara County and nearby regions.

“On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes,” Uber stated. “We view assisting to solve this problem as core to our mission and our commitment to our rider base.”

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