Flying cars get Uber boost from research pact with NASA

Uber ahead of its second annual Uber Elevate Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday has unveiled a prototype for its autonomous flying taxi of the future. Although Uber has no plans to build vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOL) themselves, the company is striking partnerships with aviation manufacturers, battery companies and others who could make it possible to summon a flying taxi via the Uber app.

At this year's summit, Uber unveiled yet another flying auto concept, this one being a four-passenger vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) fixed-wing aircraft, with vertical rotors fixed to those wings, giving an overall design that's not dissimilar to the quadcopters that have become popular in recent years.

Uber and U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Army Research Lab (RDECOM ARL), announced on May 8 a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) establishing an ongoing plan to partner around developing and testing the vehicles used in Uber's proposed urban aviation rideshare network.

Uber Elevate taxis will be requested via mobile phones, just as rides through the Uber transportaiton service are now, Khosrowshahi said in an interview on television today. After rising in the air, two of the rotors flip to a horizontal position to push the winged hybrid craft forward at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Jeff Holden, Uber's chief product officer, explained the flying taxi lifts off much like a helicopter but has two additional rotors to help it move forward. At higher altitudes (1,000-2,000 feet) a propeller in the back of the craft takes over, allowing it to fly like an airplane-which is faster and more energy efficient than staying in helicopter mode.

Khosrowshahi took over a company in crisis when he replaced Travis Kalanick as CEO in August. With Uber's autonomous driving program now stalled, it may be good time for the ride-hailing company to look towards the sky to transport riders. After the initial jokes about what to call a potential ridesharing air transportation service, the concept spurred discussion of the practicality and challenges of flying cars.

"What I'm doing is a top-to-bottom audit of our procedures, training, software, hardware, what our practices are", he said. "We want to make that a reality".

Golodryga then asked how important it is for Uber to provide a workplace where women employees can feel safe.