NASA image of air taxis
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Credit: NASA

NASA and Uber are going to figure out how to make this whole air taxi thing take off

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May 18, 2018, 5:48 PM EDT

Just imagine taking off to beat rush hour.

While our future might not look exactly like Blade Runner, with cars that can instantly unfold their wings and go from road to sky in 2.5 seconds, Uber and NASA want to make zooming to your destination over crowded city streets a reality.

Uber wants to launch its rideshare service into the air, and has now signed a second Space Act agreement with NASA to explore every possible way to make literally flying over traffic possible without crashing and burning. The space agency, which has just signed its first agreement to simulate urban air mobility (UAM) operations, will join forces with Uber at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport research facility to figure out the impact of small aircraft in crowded cities. This will involve using Uber data to create a simulation of an air taxis soaring overhead as everyone else slogs through rush-hour traffic below.

“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 NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate associate administrator Jaiwon Shin in a statement. “Urban air mobility could revolutionize the way people and cargo move in our cities and fundamentally change our lifestyle much like smartphones have.”

NASA image of flying taxis

This could be happening in the not-so-distant future. Credit: NASA

The NASA Urban Air Mobility (UAM) initiative is intended to make sure that any kind of airborne vehicles that fly over populated areas will operate as safely and efficiently as possible. Because Uber’s flying taxis are most likely to appear in air traffic control systems that are already congested, such as Dallas-Fort Worth’s, the simulations will use Uber data to address any potential safety issues and set standards for an industry that could make jammed highways a thing of the past.

NASA already works with the Federal Aviation Administration to manage everything from air taxis to drones that could deliver something you order online in a matter of hours. It has been conducting aeronautics research that addresses low-altitude Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) traffic management, integrating UAS vehicles into the National Airspace System, safety that spans the entire system, vertical takeoffs and landings, general aircraft development, and future planes (like the ultracool X-plane) that will run on nothing but electricity.

“The convergence of technologies, and new business models enabled by the digital revolution, is making it possible to explore this new way for people and cargo to move within our cities,” Shin said.

For now, you’re still going to have to wait out delays on the road until life actually starts to turn into a sci-fi movie.

(via NASA)