Fly­ing car? Uber, NASA see them in L.A. by 2020

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Marco della Cava

SAN FRAN­CISCO – Uber has a host of is­sues to con­tend with, from re­mak­ing its cor­po­rate cul­ture to bat­tling un­friendly cities.

But the ride-hail­ing com­pany is nonethe­less forg­ing ahead with plans to make a Blade Run­ner vi­sion of trans­porta­tion — fly­ing cars— a re­al­ity by 2020.

Uber chief prod­uct of­fi­cer Jeff Holden an­nounced at the Web Sum­mit con­fer­ence in Lis­bon on Wed­nes­day that Los An­ge­les will join Dal­las as the first two cities to host the com­pany’s pro­posed net­work of fly­ing ve­hi­cles. He said the com­pany ex­pects L.A. res­i­dents to be mak­ing “heavy use” of the ser­vice by the time it hosts the 2028 Olympics.

Holden also said Uber signed an agree­ment with NASA to help de­velop a spe­cial­ized air-traf­fic con­trol net­work to keep track of newly crowded skies.

“Tech­nol­ogy will al­low L.A. res­i­dents to lit­er­ally fly over the city’s his­tor­i­cally bad traf­fic, giv­ing them time back to use in far more pro­duc­tive ways,” Holden said in com­ments shared with USA TO­DAY. “At scale, we ex­pect UberAir will per­form tens of thou­sands of flights each day across the city.”

In a spe­cial-ef­fects laden video screened for con­fer­ence at­ten­dees, called “Closer Than You Think,” a woman is seen head­ing to an Uber Sky­port on the roof of a tall build­ing.

She checks in with her app for an UberAir flight and joins three other pas­sen­gers in a pi­loted elec­tric plane that looks like a small Cessna with the ex­cep­tion of ro­tat­ing wing-mounted pro­pel­lors that swivel, en­abling the craft to take off ver­ti­cally like a he­li­copter.

To keep tabs on its sky-bound traf­fic, Uber said it will work with NASA on a range of Un­manned Traf­fic Man­age­ment and Un­manned Aerial Sys­tems projects that in the­ory will pre­vent cat­a­strophic midair ac­ci­dents from hap­pen­ing in the skies above dense ur­ban zones. “UberAir will be per­form­ing far more flights over cities on a daily ba­sis than has ever been done be­fore,” Holden said. “Do­ing this safely and ef­fi­ciently is go­ing to re­quire a foun­da­tional change in airspace-man­age­ment tech­nolo­gies.”

Uber also an­nounced that it signed an agree­ment with Los An­ge­les’ Sand­stone Prop­er­ties to de­velop its Sky­port roof-top take-off and land­ing ter­mi­nals. Sand­stone has 20 build­ings around the core of L.A.

While tech­no­log­i­cal, reg­u­la­tory and psy­cho­log­i­cal hur­dles re­main, the prospect of fly­ing over (or un­der) im­mov­able traf­fic is hard to re­sist. Los An­ge­les-based Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even started a new ven­ture, The Bor­ing Com­pany, which plans to drill tun­nels be­neath cities.

Uber’s pre­sen­ta­tion fea­tured a graphic that showed how a ride in an Uber car from Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port to the Sta­ples Cen­ter would typ­i­cally take around an hour and 20 min­utes, even though it’s a 16mile trek. But take an UberAir and you’ll cover the 10 miles in 27 min­utes.

“Do­ing this safely and ef­fi­ciently is go­ing to re­quire a foun­da­tional change in airspace-man­age­ment tech­nolo­gies.” Jeff Holden Uber chief prod­uct of­fi­cer

Los An­ge­les will join Dal­las as the first two cities to host Uber’s pro­posed net­work of fly­ing ve­hi­cles. UBER

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