NASA contracts Uber to build flying taxi air control software

Earlier this month NASA said it was working with a variety of companies, large and small, to develop the emerging market for what it terms Urban Air Mobility, or UAM. Photo: Nasa.

.Uber has struck a deal with NASA to develop software for managing “flying taxi” routes in the air along the lines of ride-hailing services it has pioneered on the ground, the company said on Wednesday.

And in this case, it’s working hard to stay on regulators’ good side. Uber said it was the first formal services contract by the US National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) covering low-altitude airspace rather than outer space. NASA has used such contracts to develop rockets since the late 1950s.

Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden also said Uber would begin testing four-passenger, 200-miles-per-hour (322-km-per-hour) flying taxi services across Los Angeles in 2020, its second test market after Dallas/Fort Worth.

Holden is set to reveal the company’s latest air taxi plans at Web Summit, an annual internet conference taking place in Lisbon this week.

“There is a reality that Uber has grown up a lot as a company,” Holden said in an interview ahead of his speech. “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.” Uber has faced endless regulatory and legal battles around the world since it launched its ride-hailing services earlier this decade, including a recent showdown in London, where it is battling to retain its licence after having been stripped of it by city regulators over safety concerns.

The company is looking to speed development of a new industry of electric, on-demand, urban air taxis, Holden said, which customers could order up via smartphone in ways that parallel the ground-based taxi alternatives it has popularised while expanding into more than 600 cites since 2011.

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