taxi drone (Vladimir Nepomnyashch/Shutterstock.com)

Flying cars get ready for takeoff

Taking a flying car to work might be a dream come true for commuters stuck in rush-hour traffic, but challenges remain before the technology gets off the ground, air mobility experts told a House panel.

“From a vehicle and operations standpoint, it is important to get the [Federal Aviation Administration] involved,” said Eric Allison, head of aviation programs at Uber, during a July 24 hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “Locally, we are managing noise, privacy and other concerns, but we want a consistent regulatory model from an operations and regulatory standpoint.”

Uber’s Elevate initiative aims to make flying cars a reality by 2023. The company is partnering with helicopter manufacturer Bell on a vertical takeoff and landing air taxi service and plans to test the program in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles areas starting in 2020.

“We have ongoing dialogues with the mayor’s office and other agencies" that regulate transportation in both of those cities, Allison told GCN after the hearing. “We are building simulations and decision-making tools to guide our thinking in terms of takeoff and landing in a rigorous way.”

Uber is also working with NASA on a grand challenge to test the readiness of flying car technology, which is expected to be announced in 2019.

“We would like to provide a forum where industry partners can come and check their capabilities,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

As the agency does more work on urban air mobility, Shin said NASA could help solve challenges related to safety certification, airspace integration, and noise standards and procedures.

“Urban air mobility is not a new idea, but in the past, the technology was not available to make it safe and economically viable,” Shin said. “These enabling technologies are within our grasp, such as the ability to deal with massive datasets, electric power and propulsion systems, sustainable vehicles, and vehicle and operational systems.”

To seamlessly and safely schedule traffic, a distributed, highly automated system with robust data sharing will be needed, Shin said in his testimony.

Such a system would depend on state and local governments, said John-Paul Clarke, an aerospace engineering professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It is not realistic to expect the FAA to move into air traffic control in urban environments,” he added. “I believe that municipalities will need to ultimately be involved.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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